NASHVILLE — In late February, Kenneth Faried was asked the favorite moment of his stellar Morehead State University career.
"The NCAA championships, the tournament," he said of the Eagles' 2009 Big Dance trip. "I really want to go back."
Consider that reservation now booked. With a turbo-charge boost from Faried's roommate and close friend, Demonte Harper, Morehead State is going back to the Show.
Just as Brooks didn't dominate the country music charts until he found Dunn.
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Beavis wouldn't have made it on MTV without Butthead.
Batman could not have fought crime without Robin.
Faried would not be back in the NCAA Tournament without Harper.
The 6-foot-4 guard from Nashville gave the home folks a performance to remember. He finished within shouting distance of a triple-double — 27 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
"I thought before the season, he was the most talented guard in our league," Morehead Coach Donnie Tyndall said. "I pleaded with him to be aggressive. Tonight, you saw what he can do when he does. He came up huge."
Faried did his part, too. He notched his normal double-double (24 points, 15 rebounds) and only added to his rich Morehead State legacy with another OVC tourney title.
"I'm so ecstatic, I can't even talk," the senior big man from Newark, N.J., said. "This is the feeling I wanted back."
Harper unleashed long-range artillery (three three-pointers), scored on acrobatic drives into the lane and was almost as effective cleaning the glass as Faried — the nation's leading rebounder.
If that weren't enough, with 5:39 left in the game, the Music City product also cleaned the floor — taking a mop and wiping the gym floor of perspiration.
"My family was here, and that makes it special," Harper said. "We've been talking about this since we came back to school in August. We said were going to get back to the OVC Tournament finals and go back to the NCAA Tournament. And, we did it, baby."
Harper's relatives and friends saw him named tourney MVP. It was a deserved moment for a player who has often been in the shadow of the more celebrated Faried.
Tennessee Tech (20-12) would have been a wonderful NCAA Tournament story, too. The Golden Eagles are coached by Mike Sutton, the former assistant to Tubby Smith at Kentucky.
In April, 2005, while attending the Portsmouth Invitational in Virginia, Sutton suddenly found himself without balance. When he tried to twist the cap off a bottle of water, he couldn't. Within 24 hours, he was fully paralyzed and on a hospital respirator.
Guillen-Barre' Syndrome, a neurological disorder whose effects are oft compared to "mild polio," is why Sutton had to ride an electric wheelchair onto the floor for Saturday's game. It is why he sits on a stool in front of his team's bench with a cane to support his weight.
A Tech victory would have meant more than the school's first NCAA tourney trip since 1963. It would have put a cap on Sutton's own courageous comeback story.
As it was, Sutton's team fought with its own true grit. Down 15 (59-44) with 8:40 left, the Golden Eagles used a furious full-court press and the scoring of Kevin Murphy (30 points) to pull within four twice in the last two minutes.
But with MSU clinging to a 71-67 lead, Harper drove the lane and hit his roomie with a nifty bounce pass that led to a Faried dunk.
After Tech cut it back to four on two free throws by Murphy, Tech fouled Faried, and the senior went to the line and drained two foul shots.
That steadied Morehead, and soon the clock reached 0:00. Morehead — a school that went from 1985 to 2009 without ever visiting college basketball's promised land — is back in the NCAAs for the second time in three years.
Faried charged into the stands to hug family members. Harper threw his arms in the air. Tyndall and his coaching staff were engulfed in a massive group hug.
All it took to make it happen was Morehead's own dynamic duo, Harper and Faried, riding high when it was needed most.
Said Tyndall: "It's unbelievable what those two kids have meant to this program."