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DAYTON, Ohio — Morehead proved that it could play with Louisville for about 20 minutes or so back in November when the Eagles went into halftime trailing the Cards by just nine points.
They also found out that 20 minutes won’t cut it, as U of L blitzed Morehead Coach Donnie Tyndall’s club 50-21 in the second half of a 79-41 win.
The Eagles (20-15) were done in by an avalanche of steals, dunks and three-pointers as the Cardinals went on a 33-7 run to turn a 37-30 game into a 72-37 rout.
The two teams will face off again Friday night in Midwest Regional first-round action at University of Dayton Arena. The Eagles, the No. 16 seed, will need to be much sharper with the ball than they were in Tuesday’s play-in game, when they turned it over 21 times against an Alabama State team that didn’t even press much.
“You just can’t turn the ball over,” Tyndall said. “Louisville plays in spurts. A dunk and open three, and you can go from down four to down 13-15. That’s the spurt that makes the difference. Coach Pitino’s teams have always done that, going back to his Providence days. He tries to wear you down with the press.”
Louisville Coach Rick Pitino has seen plenty of peaks and valleys during his 47 NCAA Tournament games. And he knows that if you’re a top seed, you might have to overcome a few body blows from low seeds in the early rounds in order to advance.
The West Region’s No. 15 seed, Cal-State Northridge, led second-seeded Memphis by six points with 10 minutes to go before the Tigers finished the game with a 25-8 run to win by 11.
Even Pitino’s juggernaut 1996 national championship team at Kentucky had an early Maalox moment in its opening-round game. Pitino recalled a reporter asking him about being the largest favorite in the history of the NCAA Tournament against San Jose State, yet UK found itself trailing for much of the first half and enjoyed only a 47-41 halftime lead. The Cats eventually pulled away for a 110-72 victory.
Pitino said the key is not to panic if the underdog gets on a roll.
“You’ve just got to stick with your game plan and understand that, because of the three-point line, because of great players getting hot or because of changing defenses, anything can happen in a half,” he said. “We understand Morehead’s going to bring a lot of emotion. We understand they could make some shots early in the game. You’ve just got to stick with what you do and hopefully have your run during the course of the game.”
Louisville forward Terrence Williams said his team can’t allow Morehead to hang around and build confidence.
“It’s very important not to get into the hole because you don’t want to let (confidence) become a factor,” he said. “It might be tied up, and they shoot it from midcourt and win, and you go home. You don’t want to be in that type of situation.”
Morehead is led by its undersized but productive post tandem of senior Leon Buchanan (15.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and sophomore Kenneth Faried (13.9 ppg, 13.1 rpg).
“They’ve been double-double guys almost every night for us,” Tyndall said.
The Eagles’ point guard, junior Brandon Shingles, didn’t play in the first Louisville game because he was sitting out the first semester because of transfer rules.
“If we can play with 12 turnovers or less, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity with five minutes to play,” Tyndall said. “That’s the bottom line.”
It would be the first time in history for a No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1, but Tyndall isn’t afraid to dream big.
“One thing I have always said is, at some point in time, there will be a 16 beat a 1 seed, and we hope its tomorrow night,” Tyndall said. “We know the task at hand, but if I didn’t expect, as a coach, to go out and win this game, I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to myself and to my players.”