March Madness Flashback of Robert Morris’ near upset in 2010

Photo via New York Post

Photo via New York Post

Garrett Gess, Writer

March Madness is finally here. In 2022, over 35 million people in America filled a bracket to predict the NCAA Basketball Tournament. While millions of people pick teams they think will advance, there are almost always upsets and dark horse teams that make a deep run in the tournament. It’s no surprise there has never been a perfect March Madness bracket. This year the Saint Peter’s Peacocks became the first 15-seed to make it to the Elite Eight in tournament history. In 2010, 15-seed Robert Morris almost pulled off the ultimate upset against the mighty Villanova Wildcats in the First Round. Unlike Saint Peter’s, who will forever be in upset history, Robert Morris’s 2009-10 team came short of that prize.

Robert Morris University remains a small private school in Moon Township. The school consists of around 4,000 undergraduates, and their athletics programs have been mainly irrelevant in Western Pennsylvania. But one Thursday afternoon game in March of 2010 let the entire country learn about the RMU Colonials basketball program.


Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to its famous 64-team format in 1985,  Robert Morris has appeared in the tournament four times and lost all four. All of their appearances came from being the Northeast Conference Champions. The NCAA tournament awards an automatic bid to each conference winner regardless of their record or rank.

In 2009, Robert Morris won the NEC and earned a trip to the tournament. They lost in the First Round to eventual national championship runner-up Michigan State. In 2010, RMU won the NEC for the second-straight time and even had the same 15-3 conference record as the prior season. The Colonials were led by head coach Mike Rice. Their starting lineup consisted of Velton Jones, Karon Abraham, Mezie Nwigwe, Rob Robinson, and Dallas Green.

RMU earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Basketball Tournament and was once again the 15-seed. The Colonials matched up against Villanova from the other side of the state who were the 2-seed and ranked #9 in the country by the AP Poll. The Villanova Wildcats represented one of college basketball’s greatest programs and were coming off a Final Four appearance in the prior year. Villanova’s 2009 Final Four appearance came after a 78-76 upset win over Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight. Western Pennsylvania fans who were heartbroken from Pitt’s loss in the year prior could gravitate towards Robert Morris to seek revenge.

Pregame Buildup

Robert Morris was outmatched by Villanova in every aspect. RMU only played two teams that finished in the Top 25 during their regular season: Syracuse and Pitt. Robert Morris was outscored by 64 points in the two games combined. The Colonials also didn’t have any players on their roster who were ranked in the Top 100 in their high school class, while the Wildcats had nine. In all March Madness games of the 2000’s decade, the 15-seed was 1-39 against the 2-seed. The only 15-seed over 2- seed win was when Hampton (not to be confused with the Hampton Talbots) defeated Iowa State in 2001. Coming into the game, Villanova was projected to defeat Robert Morris by around 20 points.

The game was at 12:30pm on March 18, 2010. It was played at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, and televised on CBS.

First Half

The game started as expected, with Villanova having a 9-5 lead during the first five minutes. Robert Morris played incredible defense for the remaining first half and had a 28-22 halftime lead. It was not unusual for underdogs to start strong in March Madness games and have a chance for the upset. But the favorite typically takes over the game in the second half and thus gets the victory.

Second Half

Robert Morris proved they were to be taken seriously by extending on their lead and reaching a 44-36 lead midway through the second half. It was at this point in the game that those watching truly believed that RMU had a chance for the upset and could take down the Wildcats.

Villanova kept trying to trim the lead but they were met with constant resistance by Robert Morris. The Colonials had a 55-47 lead with four minutes left and were a few defensive stops away from clinching the victory. RMU was held scoreless for the next two minutes while Villanova scored eight points to tie the game 55-55. Both teams scored three more points to set the stage for the final 30 seconds tied at 58-58. RMU had the ball first but Karon Abraham missed a two-point jumper, and Villanova got the rebound. Villanova had taken two shots on the last possession and missed both. The regulation was over and overtime would begin.


Villanova raced to a 64-58 lead in the first two minutes of overtime. The Wildcats kept trying to pull away but Robert Morris kept it close. RMU battled back, and with 40 seconds left to play, Mezie Nwigwe stole the ball on an inbounds play and drove for the two-point layup to be within one at a 68-67 deficit. Robert Morris was forced to keep fouling Villanova to keep control of the clock.

Down 71-67 with 10 seconds to go, Karon Abraham made a three-point jumper to put the game at 71-70. Villanova made a pair of free throws on the next possession to put the lead at 73-70. On the final possession with nine seconds left, Mezie Nwigwe drove the ball down the court and missed a potential game-tying three-pointer off the back iron. The clock hit 0:00 and midnight finally struck on the cinderella story of Robert Morris.


Robert Morris’s only loss was on the scoreboard as they came so close to having one of the biggest upsets in March Madness history. Despite their surprise of playing in such a close game against Villanova, Robert Morris had many opportunities to win. Not only did RMU blow an 8-point lead with 4:19 to play, but they also had 21 turnovers and 31 fouls throughout the entire game. Other than Karon Abraham’s performance of being 5 for 11 on three-pointers, the rest of the team was 0 for 9.

The following year, RMU head coach Mike Rice departed to be the coach of Rutgers. In 2011 and 2012, RMU had a chance to return to the March Madness tournament but fell to Long Island in the NEC Championship in both years.

Back-to-back NIT Upsets

In 2013, Robert Morris qualified for the NIT Tournament and had a major upset over the defending national champion, 1-seed Kentucky in the First Round by a 59-57 score. Typically, the first round of the NIT is played at the site of the home team but Kentucky’s Rupp Arena hosted the first two rounds of the 2013 NCAA tournament, so Robert Morris hosted the NIT first round. Even better was that Kentucky’s head coach John Calipari, was born in Moon Township, and Robert Morris got to spoil his return home.

One year later in the NIT Tournament, RMU took down traditional Big East powerhouse, 1-seed St. John’s in the First Round with an 89–78 score. Sadly for the Colonials, they lost in the next round during both seasons.

Robert Morris Today

In 2020, RMU qualified for the NCAA tournament, which was canceled due to COVID-19. After that season, RMU transferred into the Horizon League to play in a more respected conference. Their conference transfer has been a source of their struggles as RMU went 11–37 in their past two seasons combined. The entire Pittsburgh region has been having college basketball struggles as Pitt and Duquesne are at the bottom of their conferences.

Check out the ESPN recap or Youtube video of the game to learn more!