College Basketball Nation: 2011 NCAA Cardinals-Eagles

Morehead State continues the dream

March, 17, 2011

DENVER -- Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall was having trouble sleeping at 2:30 a.m. when he made the decision. If the Eagles had the ball on the final possession against Louisville, they were going to go for the win.

Faced with that scenario, the way Demonte Harper heard Tyndall telling that story in the huddle before the biggest shot of his life, there was no way he wasn’t going to take the 3-pointer confidently.

Harper buried the shot at the top of the key with 4.2 seconds left and Kenneth Faried blocked Mike Marra’s jump shot attempt on the other end at the buzzer to lift No. 13-seeded Morehead State to a 62-61 win on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, easily the most significant victory in the program’s history.

[+] EnlargeMorehead State's Demonte Harper
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesMorehead State's Demonte Harper watches his game-winning 3-pointer sail toward its target with seconds to play.
A senior who experienced a loss to in-state power Louisville two years ago when the Eagles were a No. 16 seed and the Cardinals had future NBA players all over the floor, Harper saw his shot to make his coach’s vision come true.

“Coach said, ‘I dreamed about this last night. I know exactly where I'm going to. I'm going to put it right in your hands, Demonte. I don't want you to drive it to the hole. I want you to pull up and win the game off a 3-pointer. I want you to pull up and win the game.’”

The Cardinals used a 9-0 run to take a four-point lead with 1:20 left and the hopes of an upset started to wane. But despite a tough day on offense for Faried (finished with 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting), Morehead State -- which trailed by eight at one point -- delivered the ball to its dreadlocked big man in the post, and he came through with two subsequent free throws to cut the lead.

With Louisville leading scorer Preston Knowles knocked out of the game in the second half with a sprained foot, it was left to Elisha Justice in crunch time. The freshman had hit a 3-pointer to give Louisville the lead with 2:13 left, but missed the front end of a one-and-one after Faried’s free throws gave MSU the ball with 23.8 seconds left.

Harper unleashed his dagger, beating Peyton Siva with a crossover and burying the shot. Faried blocked Marra’s attempt at the other end, and the school’s cheerleaders rushed the court to celebrate. In Tyndall’s new reality, he approached a cheering section and repeatedly pumped his fists as his face reddened.

“We played for 40 minutes, and that’s what it takes to beat a team like Louisville,” Tyndall said.

Morehead State surprised UL by racing off to a 7-0 lead, using a swarming defense to get the Cardinals out of sorts and force them into 10 of their 16 turnovers in the first half. The Eagles’ Terrance Hill buried a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to leave the two teams tied at 33, and it was a sign of things to come.

Hill scored 13 second-half points, repeatedly hitting 3-pointers to bring the Eagles back and keep them within a reasonable distance. Chris Smith led Louisville with 17 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

“I could live with losing last year. They were much better, Cal,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, referring to last season's first-round loss to Pac-10 champion California. “This is a tough one to lose. This is a tough one.”

Pitino’s team surprisingly tied for a third-place finish in the Big East in the face of injuries and without returning a single starter. But with Faried gathering 17 rebounds, it was apparent the Cardinals missed leading rebounder Rakeem Buckles despite a solid game from Terrence Jennings, who blocked four shots and had eight rebounds.

“We are what we are,” Pitino said. “We’re just too small, and unfortunately it hurt us on the backboard.”

And it was Faried, the nation’s leading rebounder, who made his 6-foot-8 presence felt at the end of the game. Marra pulled up for a shot, and Faried threw his arms up and said he got all ball.

“This is a dream,” Faried said. “Did we just beat Louisville?”

Rapid Reaction: Morehead St. 62, L'ville 61

March, 17, 2011
DENVER -- Morehead State pulled off the stunner against Louisville, winning 62-61 in such an upset that the cheerleaders stormed the court and coach Donnie Tyndall pumped his fists at the crowd. Demonte Harper hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left, and Kenneth Faried blocked a potential Mike Marra game-winning attempt at the buzzer. Terrance Hill led Morehead State with 23 points, hitting five 3-pointers.

Turning point: Louisville leading scorer Preston Knowles left the game for good with 8:51 left, apparently due to a sprained left ankle. He had his shoes off and left the court in crutches. The Cardinals missed him, especially since it was freshman Elisha Justice who was left on the court and missed on the front end of a one-and-one to give Harper the chance for the game winner.

Key player: Hill was money from beyond the arc, tying his season high with five 3-pointers in six attempts. He also had eight rebounds and three steals, going 6-for-9 from the field overall.

Key stat: Faried went 4-for-17 from the floor, but made his presence felt with 17 rebounds. The nation’s leading rebounder used a couple of those boards to kick out for 3-pointers.

Miscellaneous: Terrence Jennings did a fine job guarding Faried, holding him to four field goals. He also had two straight buckets down the stretch and gave the Cardinals a four-point lead with a dunk with just over a minute left. Peyton Siva played with such heart down the stretch, dishing the ball off to Jennings for easy baskets.

What’s next: Morehead State moves on for a chance to play in the winner of the Vanderbilt-Richmond game.

Previewing Denver: The early games

March, 17, 2011
DENVER -- Here's a look at the afternoon games taking place at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Louisville (25-9) vs. Morehead State (24-8), 1:40 p.m. ET

How they got here: Louisville didn’t need a year to rebuild after all. Even after entering the season without a returning starter and going through their share of injuries, the Cardinals still managed to tie for third in the Big East and reach the conference tournament championship game before falling to Connecticut. Morehead State won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament and is on a roll heading into the NCAA tournament. Since back-to-back losses to Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky, the Eagles have won 12 of 13.

Storyline: The two Kentucky schools separated by a two-hour drive know each other very well, especially since Morehead State put a scare into Louisville for a while when the Cardinals were a No. 1 seed in 2009. The Eagles only trailed by two points at halftime but ultimately lost by 20. MSU seniors Kenneth Faried and Demonte Harper used the game as a learning experience. “Now it’s totally different for us because we’ve grown physically and mentally,” Harper said.

Players to watch: Preston Knowles (14.8 ppg) and Peyton Siva (5.3 apg) help make up a dynamic backcourt for Louisville that spreads the ball around in the team’s guard-oriented offense. Since losing Rakeem Buckles for the season, the Cardinals have relied on Terrence Jennings for rebounding. Morehead State has the nation’s rebounding leader in Faried, the OVC player of the year for the past two seasons. He averages 17.6 points per game, and the Eagles also get scoring out of Harper (16 ppg).

What to look for: Louisville knows the key is to contain Faried, who not only leads the nation in rebounding (14.5 rpg), but also in field goal percentage (64 percent).

“You don’t see a Dennis Rodman come along anymore, a Dennis Rodman with a jump shot, because this man has a jump shot,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of Faried.

Given the history between the two teams and the respect the Cardinals are showing, Faried won’t take them by surprise. Look for Knowles and Siva to be aggressive from the opening tip in order to protect against the upset possibility.

Vanderbilt (23-10) vs. Richmond (27-7), 4:10 p.m. ET

How they got here: Vanderbilt finished tied for third in the SEC East and recorded its signature win in November, going to Puerto Rico and beating North Carolina. The Commodores also scored a nice nonconference win at home against Saint Mary’s and in league play beat Kentucky and swept Georgia. Richmond enters the tournament on fire, having won seven straight games, including the A-10 tournament. The Spiders went an impressive 13-3 in conference play and also have a win against Purdue.

Storyline: Vanderbilt is hoping to avoid a third straight opening-round upset loss in the NCAA tournament, having fallen to Siena in 2008 and Murray State at the buzzer last season. Meanwhile, Richmond has a long history of staging upsets in the tournament -- and at the same time want to shake the “giant killer” label and earn more respect. “We are trying to shake the giant-killer thing, the mentality out of the Richmond program, because we’ve done a lot of great things since we’ve been here,” guard Kevin Anderson said.

Players to watch: Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins led the SEC in scoring (19.5 ppg) and is dealing with turf toe that forced him to miss an opening-round conference tournament game against LSU last week. Commodores forward Jeffery Taylor is a top-flight athlete who played his best basketball late in the season. Richmond’s Justin Harper is a sight to see, as a 6-foot-10 forward who shoots 46.5 percent from 3-point range and averages 17.9 points per game. Anderson, last season’s A-10 player of the year, has found his stroke again after going through some midseason shooting woes.

What to look for: Vanderbilt wants to use its athleticism with Jenkins and Taylor to run Richmond off the floor, even as the Spiders try to slow down the Commodores with a matchup zone.

“We’re going to try to push the tempo,” Taylor said. “We like to run. We like to push the ball and get shots early on the shot clock.”

Richmond runs a Princeton-style offense, but it’s a version that is relatively fast-paced and relies on transition, so look for Anderson to play a key role. Harper is a matchup nightmare and can be tough to defend.