The basketball team may be considered small, but the players -- and everyone else on the Robert Morris campus -- were holding their heads high Wednesday, the morning after upsetting defending NCAA champion Kentucky in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
"Everybody's walking about 3 inches taller," university president Greg Dell'Omo said. "There's a sense of pride and accomplishment. It was good to see the whole university come together."
Dell'Omo called the Colonials' 59-57 win against Kentucky Tuesday night on national television "college athletics at its finest." That the game was played in Robert Morris' little 3,000-seat Sewall Center made it "historic," he said.
Attendance in some classes Wednesday morning might have been down, but those who showed up had one topic on their mind. And that worked out fine for Scott Branvold, who teaches a course in "management principles in sports."
"We talk about event planning," said Branvold, who has taught at Robert Morris for 20 years and said he never saw the excitement and energy reach its current level.
"We've hosted high school events with bigger crowds, and I always thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if our college events had that atmosphere?' I can count on one hand the number of times the facility has been even close to that full."
J.D. Lombardi, 21, a junior studying history, said he wasn't big on "school spirit" and hadn't even planned to watch the game on TV. But after speaking with a friend in their dorm Tuesday night, they had a change of heart.
"We kind of snuck in for the last three minutes," he said, admitting they were among the throng of students who rushed the court when the buzzer sounded. "Even if you don't watch sports, it's your team, it's your school, it's something to be proud of."
Dell'Omo, who has been president since 2005, said school pride is important.
"It goes to the issue of what role does Division I athletics play on university campuses," he said. "We all know that in some quarters, collegiate athletics get out of hand. But when you bring it back to our level, it truly is a student-athlete experience.
"Sports can serve as a front porch to the university. It introduces your university to a wider audience. Then they can walk through the front door, which is our academics, which is the role of the university and our mission. So, good or bad, sports plays a very important role. It does raise your profile. But, now, if that's all you live off of, shame on you."
Nate Hargraves, Nick Groat and David Taylor -- members of the Colonials' football team -- were among the fans rooting through the game and then rushing onto the court. Wednesday morning, they joined others in the campus' student center to watch highlights of the game on television and relive the excitement.
"The basketball team raised the bar," said Hargraves, a senior from Natrona Heights. "There's no jealousy. We're proud of them. I was the first one on the court."
Asked if it would be possible for the ride to continue, they expressed every confidence.
"At first I was skeptical, but once I got into that atmosphere, I started to believe," said Groat, looking ahead to the Colonials' second-round game against Providence, who beat Charlotte Wednesday night, 75-66. Providence plays in the Big East Conference.
"They better start getting buses lined up now for it."
Dan Majors: 412-263-1456 and firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published March 21, 2013 4:15 AM