Men's Basketball

Mark Story: Tyndall still basking in Morehead 62, Louisville 61

The Morehead State Eagles and Coach Donnie Tyndall ruined a lot of brackets when they beat No. 4 Louisville 62-61 in the NCAA Tournament.
The Morehead State Eagles and Coach Donnie Tyndall ruined a lot of brackets when they beat No. 4 Louisville 62-61 in the NCAA Tournament. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Here's the thing about being the head coach on the right side of one of the epic NCAA Tournament upsets in our state's long, not entirely uneventful basketball history.

For the rest of his life, Donnie Tyndall can close his eyes and relive all the best moments that resulted from No. 13 seed Morehead State 62, No. 4 Louisville 61.

Morehead 62, U of L 61 got Tyndall, a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan, a guest spot on a radio talk show hosted by Michael Irvin, The Playmaker himself.

"That was pretty cool," Tyndall says.

Morehead 62, U of L 61 came exceedingly close to seeing Tyndall share a talk show with — can you believe it? — Charlie Sheen.

For reasons we will not speculate upon in our family-friendly newspaper, the actor took time out from career-killing debauchery to pick Morehead to beat Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.

When the Eagles actually did it, "ESPN tried to have a show where we would both call in and be on the phone at the same time," Tyndall said. "But just as I got in, (Sheen's phone connection) got cut off."

Morehead 62, U of L 61 helped earn Tyndall a new four-year contract and a bump in pay (to $230,000). Morehead says that takes the 41-year-old Grand Rapids, Mich., product to the "top" among Ohio Valley Conference men's hoops coaches in earnings.

Yet the coach says none of that was the best part of Morehead 62, U of L 61 for him.

"Having my daughters (Taylor and Grace) there with me and getting to share the biggest win in our school's history with them, that was the best part," Tyndall said. "To have them both in the locker room after we beat Louisville, to take them to the press conferences, to just share that moment with them, that's what I'll always remember."

In the aftermath of Morehead 62, U of L 61, Tyndall has had months of answering the same question. What, if anything, did Louisville Coach Rick Pitino say to him after the game?

"When we shook hands, Coach Pitino just said 'Donnie, you played a good game,' " Tyndall said.

It is the nature of March Madness nail-biters that games are remembered by their decisive plays. So basketball fans in Kentucky will always recall Demonte Harper's ice-cold 22-foot bomb that put Morehead ahead of U of L to stay and Kenneth Faried's fearless block of a Mike Marra three-point try that sealed the upset.

What isn't remembered is that, before his game-winning shot, Harper had scored five points. That even with his game-saving block and 17 rebounds, Faried shot 4-for-17 against U of L.

It was Morehead's "other guys" — especially guards Terrance Hill (23 points) and Ty Proffitt (13 points) — who put the Eagles in position to win.

"I'd throw Sam Goodman in that, too," Tyndall said of the undersize senior sixth man. "He came in and gave us so much energy, like he always did. Our 'other kids' were huge in that game."

The days before the NBA lockout became a reality were heady ones for the Morehead basketball program. In Faried's hometown of Newark, N.J., the 6-foot-8 jumping jack became a first-round NBA draft pick by going No. 22 to the Denver Nuggets.

Harper, the late-blooming 6-foot-4 guard who started at Morehead as a walk-on, wasn't drafted but got an invitation to the Atlanta Hawks mini-camp for draft picks and free agents.

"It's one thing for a (University of) Kentucky to have a first-round pick," Tyndall says. "They sign one of the top 5, top 10 players in their class, they stay one year, maybe two years, and then get drafted.

"Well, Kenneth Faried was not ranked in the top 500 players in his senior class. He should have been, we know that now, but the fact remains he wasn't. What I'm proud of, we took one guy who wasn't ranked in the top 500 in his class and developed him into a first-round pick.

"We took another guy (Harper) who came as a walk-on and developed him where he at least has a chance to make the NBA. At our level, it has to be about player development. That's what happened with those two kids."

Yes, that is the pitch Tyndall will take on the road to recruits this summer and fall. If Faried's national acclaim and Morehead 62, U of L 61 are going to have an impact in recruiting, the coach says it will start with players who are now rising seniors.

Going forward, there's no way at a school like Morehead to lose players as good as Faried and Harper became and not feel it in the win/loss ledger. Yet Tyndall says rather than back off or accept that he needs to be more patient with next year's roster, "I'm going to approach it like I did when I first got here and they had won four games (the year before). We really grinded back then, and that's what we're going to do this year, grind even harder."

Whatever happens in the future, Tyndall will always be able to close his eyes and have Morehead 62, U of L 61.

"The biggest win in the history of this program, on a national stage, against a coaching icon like Coach Pitino," Tyndall said. "You feel fortunate to have been a part of something like that, you really do."