DAYTON, Ohio — Morehead State didn’t need a Chief on the boards to get its first NCAA victory in a 25 years.
Center Kenneth 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.
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.
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, had 14 points and 21 rebounds, leading a team that relies on balance and rebounding to get it done. Morehead State dominated the boards 50-27. Andrew Hayles scored 14 points for Alabama State.
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.
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. A 16th seed has never knocked off a No. 1.
Alabama State’s distinction? The Hornets had the biggest name in the tournament — counting vowels and consonants, that is.
Kickingstallionsims 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 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 their imagination. For most of the game, it was neither.