NASHVILLE — For the second time in three years, the Morehead State Eagles will be dancing.
The Eagles claimed the Ohio Valley Conference's automatic bid to the men's NCAA Basketball Tournament by winning the OVC Tournament championship Saturday, 80-73 over Tennessee Tech at Nashville Municipal Auditorium.
Tournament MVP and Nashville native Demonte Harper led the Eagles with 27 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kenneth Faried, an all-tourney pick and the national rebounding leader, had 24 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots. Terrance Hill added 16 points.
"Just elated," Coach Donnie Tyndall said as he awaited the presentation of the team trophy. "It's a special, special feeling. Great team."
Faried notched the 84th double-double of his career. That ties him for second place in NCAA history, with Virginia's Ralph Sampson. The only player with more is Wake Forest alum Tim Duncan, who had 87.
"It means a lot, a heckuva lot," Faried said of returning to the NCAA tourney. "We knew we could come out on top and win a championship. I'm so proud of everybody now. I'm so happy and excited."
The second-seeded Eagles (24-9) were playing in their third consecutive OVC title game. Morehead has won 12 of its last 13 games.
The title is Morehead's fourth. The Eagles also won in 1983, 1984 and 2009.
Fourth-seeded Tech (20-12), which upset defending champion and regular-season champion Murray State 64-59 Friday to extend its winning streak to seven games, was in the finals for the first time since losing to Austin Peay in 2003. The Golden Eagles' only tournament title came in 1967.
Kevin Murphy led Tech with 30 points. Fellow all-tourney pick Jud Dillard had 10 points and seven rebounds. Zac Swansey, the Georgia transfer who also earned all-tourney honors, had nine points and six assists.
Tech battled valiantly, cutting a seven-point halftime deficit to three in the first five minutes of the second half.
Morehead then heated up as Hill, Sam Goodman and Harper hit three-pointers to ignite a 20-8 run that gave the Eagles a 59-44 lead with 8:40 left.
With a little more than five minutes left, the margin still was 15 when Tech used a relentless press and a pair of three-point conversions each by Murphy and Chase Dunn to make it close. The Golden Eagles battled back to within four, the last time at 71-67 with 1:11 left.
Morehead simply refused to fold, though.
"They caught fire at the right time, the end of the season," Harper said. "They played Murray tough. We knew it was going to be a grind for us. We knew it wasn't going to be easy for us. But we stayed the course.
"We prepared all week for this. This has always been our goal ... make it to the OVC Tournament and get back to the NCAA Tournament, as we did two years ago."
Tech, which had outrebounded 16 of its last 17 opponents, got beat 47-27 on the boards.
"That's college basketball," Faried said of Tech's rallies. "People make runs. But if the team is right, they're going to stay the course and keep grinding and keep grinding, and that's exactly what we did tonight."
Morehead never trailed en route to a 34-27 halftime lead.
Tied at 2, 7 and 9, the Eagles then went on a 20-8 run to open a 12-point lead, 29-17.
Harper scored the first six points during that stretch, later adding a three-pointer and a pair of free throws. Faried added three points with a free throw and a short jumper. Goodman, Lamont Austin and Ty Proffitt added two points each.
UT Martin 82, Tenn. Tech 76: Tourney MVP Jasmine Newsome scored 24 points to lead the second-seeded Skyhawks over the top seed in the women's finals. UTM (21-10) also had 21 points from all-tourney guard Heather Butler.
Tech (23-7) was led by Tacarra Hayes (Marion County) with 33 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
The all-tourney team included Hayes, Morehead State's Chynna Bozeman and Austin Peay's Brooke Faulkner.