On a cold, blustery Kentucky night and in front of a raucous crowd, the Morehead State Eagles sent the Murray State Racers a message in a physical win. If they want to go dancing in March, they better be ready for a fight.
Facing an opponent that boasted the nation's longest winning streak and delivered a 30-point beatdown to them in December, the Morehead State Eagles looked like they might have the right recipe for some NCAA Tournament magic, relying on rebounding and three-point shooting to hand the Racers their first OVC loss.
The game was physical and emotional and exactly the type you'd expect from two OVC rivals battling for post-season bragging rights. What was a tight first half resulted in a three-point halftime lead for the Eagles. But, they weren't done there and came out hot in the second half, extending their lead to 11 at about the halfway point and keeping it in the 7-9 range before a Murray run that closed it to 61-60 with about a minute to go.
But, the Eagles weren't ready to hand this one away, even with star big man Kenneth Faried saddled up on the bench with five fouls. Instead of folding, they found clutch plays from two of their other veteran players.
With the Eagles hanging to a one-point lead and under a minute left, Steve Peterson , who finished with a team-high 16 points to go with 5 rebounds, stepped to the line and knocked down the first, pushing the lead to 62-60. He missed the second, but grabbed his own rebound, giving his team another possession. Coming out of a timeout, Morehead inbounded the ball to Terrance Hill who knocked down his third three of the game, extending the lead to five points and essentially nailing home the game.
When the buzzer sounded, Murray State's conference record was no longer unblemished and the message was clear. It's going to be a two-team fight for the OVC's NCAA Tournament bid. And it's going to be a fight.
What Else We Learned About Morehead
1. The Guys have spirit, yes they do - The Morehead All-Girls cheerleading team is fresh off of their seventh national championship, but it was the heavy presence of the the Y chromosome that was the most noticeable. I'm not sure if it had an effect on the crowd's interest in the game, but Drew did run out to the car for his contacts after we started talking about it.
2. Be Faried, be very Faried - If you haven't heard of Kenneth Faried, you better ask somebody. In front of five NBA scouts, the junior from New Jersey posted his 21st double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He has a knack for always being in the right place to make a play and, despite fouling out with his team up 1 and two minutes left in the game, there's no doubt the OVC Pre-Season Player of the Year was a man among boys.
3. The Crowd came to party - After a night of sorry fandom at the Dean Dome, the Ellis T. Johnson Arena atmosphere was quite refreshing. The students stood on their feet nearly the entire game and every person in the arena seemed to be rooting loudly for the Eagles. It's the loudest I've ever heard 4,500 people. And I hear 4,500 people a lot. I'm pretty much an expert.
4. No Morehead jokes - Not one. Can you believe it? Neither can we. Especially on a night where a few miles down the road Kentucky is playing the Cocks. We're maturing.
So, now we're off to.....ummmm......we don't know. There's a snow storm blowing half of the East Coast away and there's a good chance we can't make it to Cornell and Syracuse. So, were will we end up?
To be continued....