With his team trailing North Florida by 13 points early in the second half, Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole knew he needed to make a change.
So he did.
“We switched (our) defense there when we got down 13 and kind of moved to a switching man and really started to apply a ton of pressure,” Toole said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “We turned them over five of their next seven possessions and really kind of changed their game.”
So much so that Robert Morris came back to win, 81-77, in a First Four match-up Wednesday. The Colonials trailed 35-29 at halftime but exploded for 52 points in the second half. North Florida, meanwhile, didn’t have any answers for Robert Morris’ high-pressure man-to-man defense.
“They were comfortable to end the (first) half,” Toole said. “Offensively, they came out really comfortable. Obviously (they) went on a 7-0 run. We just tried to change the tempo, get them on their heels, be more aggressive defensively (and) take them off that three-point line. That’s really what turned the tide for us.”
So was having Lucky Jones, who scored a team-high 21 points off the bench.
“He’s a guy who’s always kind of worked his way up to get more and more respect,” Toole said. “He graduated from St. Anthony High School and won a national championship as a senior. He’s always been one of those guys who’s been an excellent player, but maybe been overshadowed in some ways. Now he’s kind of got an opportunity on one of the biggest stages to show what he’s about. As a senior for us, he’s had an incredible career. He made big plays defensively, made big shots, seemed to be all over the floor and was leading us emotionally and keeping everyone in check. He’s been playing his best basketball and I’m happy for him – because he deserves it.”
Robert Morris (20-14), which has won seven straight games, continues its (mostly sleepless) journey this Friday against No. 1 Duke at 7:10 p.m. ET.
“Yeah, absolutely, we’ll sleep sometime in the future,” Toole said. “After the game was over last night, obviously it’s a great environment and you’re all jacked up from the way that you played and the fact that you get to advance. Then you’re shuttled off to the airport, you get thrown on a charter, you end up in Charlotte at about 1:30 in the morning and you get to your hotel. You can’t sleep on the plane and then all of a sudden you’ve got 200+ text messages and you figure, ‘Well, might as well try to get some of these out of the way at this point.’ And then you’re trying to keep an eye on some film and get your team prepared and figure out what your schedule is. So it’s been a wild ride, but it’s fun. It’s what you do it for, and it’s what you enjoy. I know our guys are super excited.”
While the Colonials are a clear underdog against Duke (29-4, 15-3), they’ve been down this road before. In 2013, they knocked off Kentucky in the first round of the NIT.
Toole’s family was of course very happy for him that night. If he beats Duke, however, the reaction might be mixed.
“My wife’s a huge Duke fan,” Toole said. “And as of right now, if I ask my 2-year-old son who he’s rooting for – Robert Morris or Duke – he says Duke. So I’ve got some work to do with him before the game tomorrow night.”
The key for Robert Morris will be not allowing the moment to become too big.
“It’s Duke,” Toole said. “It’s Coach K. He’s the Olympic coach and maybe the greatest coach in college basketball history. But that just makes it more fun. It makes the challenge greater. It makes what we’re facing and what we’re going to walk into even more exciting. I think that’s the way we look at it as a program. I think our guys are excited about that. Now, the key will be be making sure you stay true to who you are. No one’s going to be able to beat Duke by themselves, so we just got to try and work together to figure out a way.”