Morehead St. opens NCAA tournament with 58-43 win over ASU

Published 7:53 am Wednesday, March 18, 2009

DAYTON, Ohio — As a New Jersey guy, center Kenneth Faried had never heard of Morehead State the first time the school came calling.

No wonder. The Eagles won only four games as recently as 2005-06, hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1984, and were pretty much an afterthought in a state where basketball comes in shades of Kentucky blue and Louisville red.

Now, there’s a little more room to brag in the Bluegrass.

Faried got the better of his bigger and more syllabic counterpart Tuesday night, and the Eagles never trailed during a 58-43 victory over Alabama State that opened the NCAA tournament and ended a quarter-century of futility for Morehead State.

“For every fan out there, this is for you,” said Faried, who had 14 points and 21 rebounds. “Even for those in the last 25 years when we haven’t made it, this one is for them.”

Morehead (20-15) played its way into a first-round rematch on Friday with top-seeded Louisville, another Kentucky team that it knows well — maybe a little too well for a good night’s sleep the next few days.

The Eagles hadn’t made the tournament since 1984, when quarterback Phil Simms’ alma mater became a footnote to NCAA basketball history. The Eagles beat North Carolina A&T in an opening game that featured the first television replay used to settle a tournament dispute. They lost their next game to Louisville by 13 points.

Twenty-five years later, they’re on a parallel course. Up next: a Louisville team that beat them by 38 last November.

“I think we’ll do a lot better,” said Maze Stallworth, who added 11 points. “That game is a big blur to us. A lot of us don’t remember that game — or don’t want to remember that game. It’s great to play them one more time on a neutral court.”

Alabama State (22-10) hoped to set the tone defensively behind shot blocker Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsims Jr., a 7-foot-1 center whose reach is as long as his name. He swatted away three shots, but wasn’t much help where he was needed most — on the boards.

The Hornets could have used a few more Chiefs.

Faried, the Ohio Valley Conference’s defensive player of the year, led a team that relies on balance and rebounding to get it done. Morehead State dominated the boards 50-27.

The senior center chose to go to Morehead even though he thought someone was playing a joke on him the first time he heard the school wanted to recruit him.

“I’m from northern New Jersey, and to hear about Morehead — that was amazing,” Faried said. “I thought it was a pretty funny name, that they were playing around with me. I didn’t know who they were.”

Andrew Hayles scored 14 points for Alabama State, which shot only 31 percent in addition to getting outrebounded.

“They crashed the boards hard,” guard Brandon Brooks said. “We just didn’t play our game tonight. We came out timid. We should have come out like we wanted to win this game, and we didn’t. The better team won.”

Both teams shot so poorly that fans at the crowd of 11,346 at University of Dayton Arena — the largest for an NCAA opening-round game — resorted to doing the wave in the second half. Morehead couldn’t bring the fans to their feet, but did enough to move along to another game in Dayton.

Alabama State’s distinction? The Hornets had the biggest name in the tournament — counting vowels and consonants, that is.

Kickingstallionsims (it stumbles off announcers’ tongues as KIK’-een-stal’-yun-sy-ems) was the SWAC’s defensive player of the year. He showed off his reach by swatting away the game’s first shot, but made little impact the rest of the way. He had only two rebounds and was 0-for-2 from the field.

Instead, with Faried (pronounced fuh-REED) leading the way, Morehead State did what it does best, gobbling up the rebounds and controlling the game. The Eagles had a 29-13 edge on the boards in the first half, when it opened a 13-point lead that was never seriously threatened.

With no clear-cut rooting interest, the crowd wore green for the occasion — St. Patrick’s Day — and settled in to see which team would grab its imagination. For most of the game, it was neither.

Alabama State went nearly seven minutes without scoring in the first half, missing six shots and throwing the ball away three times. That provided an opening for Morehead State to pull ahead 25-12 even though the Eagles shot only 36 percent from the field in the first half.

The Eagles were quicker and more determined, especially on the boards, and that made the difference. Morehead State’s lead never slipped under double-digits the rest of the way.