Demonte Harper and Kenneth Faried boost Morehead State to OVC tournament title

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Morehead State found one more way for senior center Kenneth Faried and senior guard Demonte Harper to play a tough opponent on a neutral court.

The Eagles won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament and an automatic berth in the NCAAs.

Harper had 27 points and 11 rebounds playing in his hometown, while Faried notched his 27th double-double with 24 points and 15 rebounds, and Morehead State beat Tennessee Tech 80-73 on Saturday night.

"No one would play us because of Faried and Harper, so I had a hard time getting games," said Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall, whose Eagles lost road trips to Florida and Ohio State.

"Whoever we play it obviously will be a great opponent, a top 10-type team. The one good thing is it won't be at Ohio State's home floor, and it won't be ... the O Dome."

Faried had promised the Eagles would be back after losing in this game to Murray State a year ago. Murray State wound up knocking off Vanderbilt of the Southeastern Conference in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

With his latest double-double, Faried now ranks tied for second all-time in that category with Ralph Sampson (84) and just behind leader Tim Duncan (87). He helped the Eagles (24-9) earn their second NCAA tournament berth in three years. This is their fourth overall OVC tournament title, also winning in 1983, 1984 and 2009.

"We're happy, excited we won," Faried said. "We knew coming in that it wasn't going to be no easy battle for us against Tennessee Tech. They're a great team. But we just wanted it that much more tonight, and we wanted to bring that championship back home to Morehead. ... We're dancing tonight."

No. 4 seed Tennessee Tech (20-12) upset regular-season champion Murray State to reach its first championship game since 2003. But the Golden Eagles couldn't overcome cold shooting in their attempt to reach the NCAAs for the first time since 1963. Coach Mike Sutton came into the postgame interview room to shake Faried's hand and wish him well.

Sutton called Faried and Harper two of the OVC's top players. The coach said he talked with some of the 15 NBA scouts on hand about Faried on Friday night and sees the NCAA's top rebounder since 1973 heading to the pros.

"I wish him the best and just wish he had gone about two, three years ago," Sutton said.

Kevin Murphy led Tennessee Tech with 30 points, and Jud Dillard had 10.

Second-seeded Morehead State never trailed, with Tennessee Tech managing to tie it only three times in the opening minutes. The Golden Eagles made it interesting late after trailing by as much as 15 with 7:10 left, using a 17-6 spurt to pull within 69-65 with 1:49 left as Murphy hit a 3-pointer, then Zac Swansey stole the ball and scored on a layup to cap the spurt.

Faried dunked on the other end. Murphy made two free throws to make it 71-67 before Faried hit two free throws himself. The Eagles went 7 of 10 at the line in the final 69 seconds to hold off Tennessee Tech.

Tyndall credited Harper with setting up Faried and making sure he got to the line as well to finish off the win.

"Kenneth gets all the attention and rightfully so. He's a guy I think will be a first-round pick and play a lot of years in the NBA. That kid right there to his right, whew. Stud. Stud," Tyndall said of Harper.

Morehead State came in having allowed opponents to top 70 points only three times this season, with a scoring defense averaging 61.3 points per game.

Playing its third game in three nights, Tennessee Tech just couldn't come up with enough offense to overcome Morehead State's strong shooting. The Eagles went 7 of 16 from beyond the arc and shot 47.9 percent for the game (23 of 48) compared to 35.5 percent (22 of 62) for Tennessee Tech.

"That's what Morehead does," Sutton said. "They have Faried back there. It's just human nature to be looking for him a bit. Guys rush a little bit, or you get in a little bit of a hurry on offense. ... We have to really defend. ... They shot almost 48 percent. That's the difference."

The Golden Eagles last tied it at 9, then Harper hit a layup to put the Eagles ahead to stay with 14:28 remaining. He also hit another bucket, then two free throws as Morehead State built its lead to 12.

The Eagles could've put it away much sooner except they went cold, making only one field goal in the final 5 minutes of the first half. They led 34-27 at halftime.

Tennessee Tech didn't even go to the line until there was 19:07 left in the game, when Murphy hit the Golden Eagles' first two free throws. They finished 22 of 27 at the line but couldn't make up for being outrebounded 47-27.