MOON, Pa. — A down season for defending national champion Kentucky ended with one final disappointment.
Mike McFadden hit two free throws with 8.7 seconds remaining and the Colonials stunned the defending national champions 59-57 in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night, sending the disjointed Wildcats into an uncertain offseason less than a year after cutting down the nets in New Orleans.
“This is humbling,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They think we’re supposed to win 30 a year, 35 a year, go to the Final Four, win a national title.”
Not this time. Not even close.
Robert Morris (24-10) led almost the entire way, never blinking in a rare visit from one of college basketball’s Goliaths. Then again, this isn’t the same Kentucky team that roared through the NCAAs behind stars Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
This batch of Wildcats (21-12) hasn’t been the same since center Nerlens Noel went down with a devastating knee injury. Kentucky lost six of its final 10 games, the last one coming just a couple of 3-pointers away from the house Calipari grew up in.
“This is a shot in the arm for them and they deserve to win the game,” Calipari said. “If we’d have won at the buzzer, it would have been a shame.”
The Wildcats came close. Calipari opted not to call timeout after McFadden’s second free throw but Kyle Wiltjer’s 3-pointer before the buzzer bounced harmlessly off the rim, sending hundreds of students onto the court following the biggest win in school history.
The triumph took some of the pain out of a heartbreaking end to the regular season.
Robert Morris cruised to the Northeastern Conference title but lost to Mount St. Mary’s in the conference tournament.
The defeat dashed the Colonials’ hopes of making the NCAAs, though the chance to play Kentucky hardly felt like a letdown.