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March 24, 2013

Colonials reflect on last trip to Providence

The Dunkin Donuts Center is not a house of horrors for Robert Morris.

No one associated with the program cringed when Providence won on Wednesday to assure that Robert Morris would be bound for that arena in the next round of the NIT. There were no nightmares of Robert Morris' last trip to that arena, the haunting 73-70 overtime loss to Villanova in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

"I think it's a nice storyline but we'll see when I walk in the building," Andy Toole said. "Good memories and bad memories happen in a lot of gyms around the country."

Robert Morris' return to Providence closes a circle started by that Villanova game. It was Toole's last game as an assistant, as just a few months later he moved down a chair on the bench when Mike Rice took the Rutgers job. It was the final game in a freshman season for Velton Jones, Russell Johnson, Lijah Thompson and Coron Williams.

And prior to the win over Kentucky, the Villanova game was Robert Morris' calling card in the modern era.

"When you go recruiting and stuff like that, people remember that game and reference that game a lot," Toole said. "When we would get on the phone with kids after that, they'd tell us, 'Coach, you got screwed.' So there's a frame of reference and added notoriety to our program."

It also serves as a frame of reference for Robert Morris. For Toole, the games against Kentucky and Villanova reinforced that the Colonials need to play at a maximum level to have success in crucial games.

"As a team, we probably couldn't have done any more than we did from an effort standpoint and a detail standpoint," Toole said of both games. "Fortunately, this group was able to enjoy the victory as opposed to the group that played in the Villanova game that obviously had to handle the devastation."

For Jones, it's the little things that have stayed with him, including needing to find a way to fulfill the NCAA's mandated postgame drug test. But he also walked away feeling fairly empty and focused just on the result.

"That's all I remember, actually. Just a loss in a game we should have won," Jones said. "I was mad. We were so close. It was right there, and we let it slip away."

Williams was in a different position. He sat out that year, willing to redshirt on a senior-laden team to become a better contributor down the road. It ended up being a driving force for him in the offseason after the loss.

"I wanted to get back to that atmosphere, that game, March Madness. I wanted to be involved," Williams said. "I was sort of involved, but I wasn't playing, so I looked at it like I haven't really done anything yet and I really wanted to accomplish something."

From his position on the bench that afternoon in Providence, Williams absorbed the atmosphere around him - including the standing ovation Robert Morris received from the fans when the final buzzer sounded - and the intensity on the court.

"The one thing I remember was how hard we played and how much heart our team played with in that game," Williams said. "It was a crazy atmosphere. Everybody was amped up, but the thing was we stuck with our formula."

Jones, Johnson, Thompson and Williams can now claim that they were part of something larger at Robert Morris. Whether they keep winning in the NIT or bow out against the Friars on Monday, Jones has done something he set out to do as a freshman.

"It's actually one of the sole reasons I came to Robert Morris, to come to a program where you're not really known, not too big, but I wanted to try to help turn it into a Gonzaga or something like that," Jones said. "Those two games are the reasons I came here, to help put Robert Morris on the map."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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