Less than two minutes into the second half of their First Four game against North Florida, Robert Morris faced a 13-point deficit against a team that seemed to find its rhythm offensively. After turning the ball over ten times in the first 12 minutes of the first half, North Florida took better care of the basketball and found higher quality looks (most notably Beau Beech, who finished with 28 points) against the Robert Morris zone.
In order to close that gap Andy Toole’s team had to change its approach, and in doing so the Colonials were able to turn things around and go on to win 81-77 in Dayton. As a result of this win, Robert Morris’ first NCAA tournament victory since 1983, the Colonials are headed to Charlotte where they’ll take on South Region No. 1 Duke Friday.
One of the changes Robert Morris made was to mix up their defenses, as they used more man-to-man looks despite the fact that they’ve played zone for the majority of their defensive possessions this season. As a result North Florida shot just 3-for-11 from three in the second half, and after building the 13-point lead mentioned above the Ospreys turned the ball over on five of the next seven possessions.
UNF turnovers kept Robert Morris afloat in the first half, and for the game the Ospreys committed 19 turnovers which were converted into 21 points by RMU.
Offensively Robert Morris was much better in the second half, as they did a better job of using dribble penetration to attack a defense that had issues keeping them away from the basket. Lucky Jones (21 points), Rodney Pryor (20) and Marcquise Reed (19), the three offensive leaders throughout the season, combined to score 41 of Robert Morris’ 52 second half points and as a team the Colonials shot 55.2 percent from the field in the second half.
Also of note in the final stanza was the fact that Robert Morris didn’t commit a single turnover, and their ability to take care of the basketball also factored in the outcome.
The next challenge for Robert Morris is a significant one, and that’s going to be the case for any 16-seed. But it’s a challenge they’ll be able to take on, and that wouldn’t have been the case had Toole made some adjustments before the game got out of reach.