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.
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?”