DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- Neither Alabama State nor Morehead State has been to the NCAA tournament recently. But Alabama State's five-year absence pales to that of Morehead State, which hasn't played in the tourney for a quarter century.
"It makes it very special," Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall said Monday.The two teams meet Tuesday in the opening round of the tournament in Dayton for the right to take on top-seeded Louisville on Friday.The school from Morehead, Ky., is making its first tournament appearance since 1984, when it defeated North Carolina A&T only to lose to Louisville in the second round."When I took over three years ago, I feel the community had kind of lost touch with the basketball program." said Tyndall.The team has since actively sought to get the students more involved, meeting and greeting them at the student union on game days."I have a great deal of passion and pride about Morehead State," said Tyndall. "I feel that everyone in town and at the university feels that they are part of this."Morehead State (19-15) qualified for the tournament by winning the Ohio Valley Conference tourney, defeating Austin Peay 67-65 in double overtime on Steve Peterson's jump shot with 1.4 seconds left. Leon Buchanan is a power for the Eagles, averaging 15.1 points a game.Alabama State (22-9), from Montgomery, made the tournament in 2004, losing in the first round to Duke.The Southwestern Athletic Conference champions are led by Brandon Brooks, who averages 13.8 points and 6.8 assists. Andrew Hayles, who made three 3-pointers during a pivotal stretch of the SWAC title game to beat Jackson State, their 13th win in 14 games."We have good athletes," Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said. "However if we don't get anything on the break, we have guys we go to around the basket."Alabama State also has 7-foot center Grlenntys (gruh-LEN'-tis) Chief Kickingstallionsims. (KIK'-een-stal'-yun-sy-ems)."Chief," as he's called by his teammates, averages 8.8 points a game and has had 85 blocked shots this season."He's as long as his name is spelled," said Tyndall. "He changes shots around the rim. He's a very good player. He's one of those guys at his size at the mid-major level can impact a game without having to score a basket."