One and done: Cats lose to Robert Morris, bumped from NIT in first round



By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel

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MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The UK men’s basketball team began its season on Nov. 9 in a sparkling new arena in the heart of Brooklyn, N.Y., in front of nearly 18,000 fans.

The Cats ended it Tuesday night, rushing to the locker room as more than 3,000 Robert Morris fans rushed the court in Moon Township, Pa.

The Cats lost to Robert Morris, 59-57, Tuesday in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament, ending the most difficult season of UK head coach John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington.

Many of the school-record 3,444 fans who filled the Charles L. Sewall Center had lined the street several hours before tipoff.

The ruckus atmosphere seemed to affect the Cats early. UK (21-12, 12-6 SEC) turned the ball over four times before scoring a point as the Colonials raced to a 10-0 lead.

Robert Morris (24-10, 15-5 NEC) wasn’t afraid to play physical, something that has been a consistent pitfall of UK’s losses this season.

“They just came in and said these guys cannot withstand our physical toughness,” Calipari said. “We were down 10-0. The game was too rough.”

The Cats shot the ball well in the opening half (52 percent), but their nine turnovers at the break were key as they went into halftime down by one.

The Colonials came out hot in the second half as well, but freshman guard Archie Goodwin found his shooting touch to help the Cats keep pace.

With 15 minutes left in the game, Goodwin was 4-of-4 from the field and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line, yet UK was still trailing by three.

From there, the home team broke it open. Six unanswered points helped the Colonials build a double-digit lead with 11 minutes to go.

But a 7-0 run for UK cut the lead to four, when Goodwin was knocked down in transition, a play that resulted in Robert Morris’ second intentional foul of the game.

Sophomore forward Lucky Jones, the Colonials’ leading scorer with 15 points, was ejected for the play.

Goodwin made both free throws and scored on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 53.

After they exchanged buckets, the game was again tied with 8.3 seconds left with Robert Morris inbounding the ball under the basket. Colonials junior forward Mike McFadden broke free but had his shot blocked by freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein.

McFadden recovered, and Cauley-Stein fouled him. McFadden hit both free throws, part of a 14-14 night at the charity stripe for RMU, putting the Cats down by two points with their season ticking away.

Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer got a relatively open 3-point look as time expired, but it sailed long and the Cats suffered their 12th and final loss of the season.

“We could just never get it together I guess,” junior guard Jarrod Polson said. “It’s a big disappointment.”

For a program like the one Calipari has built at UK, the future quickly becomes part of the present.

The focus Tuesday night abruptly flipped from the final score to next year’s roster.

Nearly every player on the team hinted that he wanted to return next season.

Each cited unfinished business and repeated failures this year.

“If any of us said we should leave, we’d all be delusional,” Goodwin said. “I don’t think I’m ready. I don’t think any of us should leave.”

Cauley-Stein, who was thrown into a difficult situation when freshman center Nerlens Noel tore his ACL last month, enjoyed the process of getting better.

“I feel like I matured at a really high rate,” he said. “I never worked like this before … I liked the responsibility. I want to develop my skills as an all-around basketball player and be that guy.”

This season has been a learning experience for Calipari. He has struggled to master the mentalities of a team that was predicted to go where most felt their physical abilities should take them.

The hard work, he said, was not for nothing.

“You think you’re supposed to win 30 (games) a year,” he said. “All of the sudden this hits you. … It’s a humbling experience.”

Calipari didn’t fully elaborate on his plans for next year, but hinted at how his new No. 1 ranked recruiting class would play.

“We will be a tough team next year, I promise you,” he said. “I can’t sit through that (again). I can’t take it.”