DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - A couple of right turns, an easy merge onto
the highway, then 131 miles of wide-open, two-lane interstate.
Getting from Morehead State to Louisville isn't all that difficult.
Getting the two of them together during the basketball season
hasn't been so tough, either. They used to play every year -
sometimes three times a season - while the sport took root in the
Kentucky bluegrass, routinely splitting the outcomes.
Lately, not so often. And lately, not so close.
They've played a dozen times in the last 52 years, with bigger
and brawnier Louisville winning every game by double digits. During
that span, the Cardinals won a couple of national basketball
championships and became known as a hoops power. Morehead State?
Known as the alma mater of former NFL quarterback Phil Simms.
There's a chance for change.
The Ohio Valley champions played their way into the first round
of the NCAA tournament by beating Alabama State in the opener on
Tuesday, setting up another game with the top-seeded Cardinals. No
top seed has ever lost to a No. 16. No Morehead team has beaten the
Cardinals in 52 years.
The gap between the schools seems much longer than the stretch
of Interstate 64 that connects them.
"Our kids understand that no 16's ever beaten a 1," coach
Donnie Tyndall said. "The one thing I have said - and I don't know
how fiery the speech will be tomorrow - but at some point, at some
time, there will be a 16 seed beat a 1."
Will this be the one? It'll take a near-perfect performance,
reminiscent of the one Simms pulled off to win the 1987 Super Bowl
for the Giants. And even that might not do it.
The last dozen times they've played, Louisville has won by an
average of 32 points. There was a 107-71 win in 1993, a 119-61 win
in 1995 and a 104-40 win in 2004. When they played at Freedom Hall
on Nov. 22, Louisville pulled away to a 79-41 victory even though
the Cardinals were a work in progress.
So it's not like the Eagles don't know what they're up against.
"We know their tendencies and the scouting report, and we know
what guys like to do," forward Leon Buchanan said. "We know who
their go-to guys are, the best passer and best 3-point shooters."
They also know that no matter how the game ends, they've
accomplished a lot just by getting a rematch.
Morehead, a 9,000-student school at the foothills of the
Appalachian Mountains, bottomed out in 2005-06, when it won only
four games. Tyndall played for the Eagles in the early 1990s and
was interested in becoming the next coach, but didn't get much
encouragement from his friends.
"I did have some people that I really respect and trust in this
profession say, 'Donnie, are you sure you want to do this? It's not
a job that's been very successful,"' he said. "Some people
thought it was maybe a little bit of a dead end."
He embarked on a five-year rebuilding plan, soon discovering why
his friends had their reservations. Kenneth Faried, a center who is
their top player, had never even heard of the school when it
started recruiting him out of New Jersey. He came anyway.
The wins multiplied fast, though none involved games against
Louisville. The rebuilding was completed ahead of schedule this
season, when the Eagles made the NCAA tournament for the first time
in 25 years. Shortly before tip-off to the 58-43 win over Alabama
State on Tuesday night in the tournament's opening game, Simms left
a message on Tyndall's voice mail.
In the jubilant aftermath, he let his players listen to it.
"It was about a minute-and-a-half message, just going on about
how proud he was for the university and our team," Tyndall said.
The players had plenty of their own text and voice messages
already clogging their phones. Guard Brandon Shingles had 36 text
messages waiting. Everyone else was buried in congratulations as
"I had so many missed calls and text messages, I couldn't even
check them and I didn't reply to all of them the same night,"
It's big stuff for a bunch of players who hardly got a sniff
from the big schools during recruiting. Faried drew the interest of
Rutgers, Seton Hall and Louisville. Forward Maze Stallworth grew up
in Elizabethtown, Ky., but got no interest from the state's two
"I live no more than 20 minutes past Freedom Hall, so I never
got recruited by these guys," Stallworth said. "Being in
Kentucky, you always want to play for Louisville or Kentucky. It's
big getting to this point playing against those guys."
Back in Morehead, it's as big as it gets.