Mark Story

Eagles give it their best (hundred-to-one) shot

DAYTON, Ohio — What chance did you give No. 16 seed Morehead State against No. 1 overall seed Louisville?

One chance in a hundred?

There was reason to think there might be some karmic magic for the Eagles in those odds.

For one half Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Region, Morehead State looked Louisville square in the eye and not only didn't blink.

The Eagles were balling like the big boys.

Kenneth Faried threw down a vicious cuff dunk. With the shot clock running down, Demonte Harper floated into the key and drained a sweet 15-foot fallaway.

Morehead's undersized but crafty power forward, Leon Buchanan, head-faked his way around three Louisville defenders for a layup.

As a University of Dayton Arena crowd of 12,499 alternated between surprise and delight, Morehead State took a 24-22 lead over U of L with only 6:40 left in the first half.

"That was Louisville, arguably the best college basketball team in the country, and we were competing and staying with them," Faried said later.

At halftime, the scoreboard read Louisville 35, Morehead State 33.

Said Buchanan: "I was totally comfortable with where we were at the half."

Then, as tends to happen in 1 vs. 16 games, inevitability rained on the dream.

After halftime, Louisville turned up the furnace on its full-court press and started the second half with a 22-6 run.

Make it Louisville 74, Morehead 54.

It is hard to say what, if anything, we learned about U of L and its national title hopes.

There was this: If Louisville is going to give Rick Pitino his second NCAA title, Earl Clark has to stay on the floor.

The 6-foot-9 forward picked up his second foul with 10:35 in the first half. He went to the bench (with Louisville up 17-12) not to return in the first half.

With Clark away, the Eagles could play.

When the New Jersey product returned to start the second half, Louisville immediately put MSU on the mat.

Still, there was only dignity in the way the Eagles competed against a team that had obliterated them by 38 points earlier this season.

"We played our hearts out," Faried said.

Starting with the electric double-overtime victory over Austin Peay in the OVC Tournament championship, the past two weeks have to rank among the best in MSU's sports history.

"Other than the births of my two girls, certainly it's been the best two weeks of my life," Morehead Coach Donnie Tyndall said.

By beating Alabama State in last Tuesday's NCAA Tourney play-in game, Morehead (20-16) earned a 20th win in a season for only the third time in school history.

Its win over Alabama State was MSU's first in the NCAA tourney since 1984.

But it was the "moments" that made the trip special. The ESPN cameras fell in love with Tyndall's 9-year-old daughter, Taylor, during Tuesday's win.

After that game, the MSU coach played a cell phone message in the locker room from the most famous Morehead alum of all — Phil Simms — for his jubilant players.

Faried's strong play in the NCAAs — he followed up his 21-rebound effort against Alabama State with 14 points and 11 boards against U of L — put the sophomore on the radar of basketball junkies in Kentucky and beyond.

"I think this team put Morehead basketball back on the map," Tyndall said afterwards.

A former Morehead guard who brought a unique passion to coaching at MSU, Tyndall stamped himself as an up-and-comer.

Going forward, Morehead returns every significant player other than Buchanan. As the team's leading scorer, that's a big loss.

Next season will bring something new for Morehead basketball: Expectations.

Still, that's a good problem to have. As for Friday night, there was that one chance in a hundred.

Consider: It was 1985 when the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams.

As is repeated over and over this time of year, in all that time, no 16 seed had ever beaten a No. 1.

By the time the Eagles took the floor against Louisville, No. 16s were 0-3 in this year's tourney.

Meaning MSU was playing in the 100th 16-vs.-1 game in NCAA history.

Morehead's one chance in a hundred.

It didn't happen.

But it was sure fun for a half.