Eagles roar back into NCAAs

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 18, 2009 

DAYTON, Ohio — It had been a full quarter century since those who follow Morehead State men's basketball had gotten to experience the sweetest sound in college basketball.

An NCAA Tournament roar.

For Morehead State, what had built for 25 years exploded exactly 3:14 into the Eagles Opening Round matchup with Alabama State.

It started when Chief Kickingstallionsims, Alabama State's 7-foot-1 center with the Navajo name, rolled to the basket for an easy layup.

Except Morehead star Kenneth Faried, bounding like Tigger, came from somewhere to pin the ball to the backboard.

The roar culminated some 12 seconds later when Morehead's Maze Stallworth drained a three-pointer from deep in the left corner.

In that moment, the blue- and gold-clad Morehead throng that dominated the University of Dayton Arena let loose with 25 years worth of frustration.

That is what an NCAA Tournament — even the play-in game — sounds like.

At long last, Morehead heard it again.

Behind 14 points and 21 rebounds from Faried, Morehead State beat Alabama State 58-43 Tuesday night before the largest crowd (11,346) ever to see the opening-round game.

It was the school's first NCAA victory since Coach Wayne Martin's crew vanquished North Carolina A&T way back in 1984. In '84, that victory meant Morehead got a chance to play (and lose to) in-state Goliath Louisville.

For a nice historical touch, Coach Donnie Tyndall's current Morehead team will next face the NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed: Louisville.

However, we'll deal with Rick Pitino and his daunting full-court press a little later.

On Tuesday, Morehead State and its fans got to glory in returning to the Big Dance.

Glory in it they did.

For 19 years, Chuck Mraz has been the play-by-play voice of Morehead basketball. He waited and waited and waited for a chance to call an NCAA game.

He just knew that the 2003 Eagles led by star Ricky Minard that shared the OVC regular season title were going to return Morehead to the Dance.

When they didn't, "I was so disappointed," Mraz said. "I wondered that night if this night would ever come. This is the game I've always wanted to call."

Mraz wasn't the only announcer working Tuesday's matchup. The ESPN crew that called the game not only included the Internet's favorite sideline reporter, Erin Andrews. It also had the venerable sports announcer Brent Musburger.

One has to think this was the first time Musburger ever had the opportunity to say "You are looking live" at a sporting event involving Morehead State.

"I'd say that's true," said MSU President Wayne Andrews. "The attention our university has gotten (from making the NCAAs) has been invaluable. I don't know how you would put a worth on it."

The value that Morehead backers put on it was easily discernible all around the U of D Arena. Who knew? Morehead fans were everywhere.

"I would say 4,000 to 5,000 of those fans were from Morehead," said Tyndall, "or at least it sounded like it."

Shana Lewis, a Morehead student from Hillsboro, Ohio, had brought a carload of friends from her hometown to see her school play in the NCAAs.

Emma Keough, a Morehead volleyball player, was decked out in a blue Tyndall Town T-shirt that saluted the MSU coach.

Her teammate Holly Evans said there had never been a party at Morehead quite like what happened after the Eagles won the OVC basketball tournament in double overtime.

"Everyone got in their cars and were blowing their horns," she said.

By winning last Tuesday to claim the mantle as the No. 64 team in the current NCAA tourney, Morehead bought itself three more days to reap publicity.

That and a spot opposite the top-seeded team in the tournament. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985, a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1.

MSU vs. U of L will be a rematch of a game Louisville won 79-41 earlier this season.

A Morehead team that turned the ball over 21 times against Alabama State isn't apt to fare much better this time against The Ville and its suffocating press.

But that's Friday's problem.

After 25 years, Morehead State basketball and its sudden bounty of backers got to rediscover the roar.

An NCAA Tournament roar.

If you love college basketball, there is no sweeter sound.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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