(The Sports Network)
In a surprise matchup, the 13th-seeded Morehead State Eagles and the 12th-seeded Richmond Spiders will meet this evening for third-round action in the Southwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament from the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The odds of Morehead State getting past the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals in Thursday's second-round matchup were slim to say the least. The Eagles persevered however, proving their doubters wrong and improving their all-time mark to 6-7 in the Big Dance, with a thrilling 62-61 upset victory. With the win, Morehead State, the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament champion, improved its overall record to 25-9 on the year.
While not as shocking as Morehead State's win, Richmond clinched an upset as well on Thursday, downing fifth-seeded Vanderbilt, 69-66, to improve to 7-8 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. The Spiders have now won eight consecutive games, which includes a Big Dance-clinching 67-54 victory over Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament title game.
Only eight other times in the history of the tournament have a 12-seed and a 13-seed met. With respect to tonight's matchup, the Eagles and the Spiders have never squared off on the hardwood.
Demonte Harper proved to be the hero in what was perhaps the biggest upset of the young Tournament thus far, as he drained a three-pointer with 4.3 seconds remaining to give Morehead State an improbable, incomprehensible victory over highly-touted Louisville. The Eagles trailed by four with 1:20 remaining before big man Kenneth Faried drained two free throws following a Louisville foul to cut the deficit to 61-59. The Eagles' decision to foul on the ensuing Cardinals' possession paid off, as Elisha Justice missed the front end of a one-and-one, setting up Harper's heroics. With about six seconds remaining, Harper pulled up from the top of the key and fired up the game-winner. With time dwindling, Louisville had a look on the other end, but Faried skillfully rejected Mike Marra to seal the final margin. Harper, who was coming off an MVP performance in the OVC title game, tallied just eight points in the game. Terrance Hill compensated with a career-high 23 points behind a 5-of-6 performance from beyond the arc. Ty Proffitt added 13 points, while Faried, the NCAA's modern-era rebounding leader, recorded his 85th career double- double with 12 points and 17 boards. He is now just two points shy of 2,000 for his sparkling career. In all, the Eagles outrebounded the Cardinals 41-29. Faried, a two-time OVC Player of the Year and three-time OVC Defensive Player of the Year award winner, averages a double-double on the season with 17.5 ppg and a nation-leading 14.6 rpg. Harper ranks second on the team in scoring at 15.8 ppg, while Hill adds 10.8 ppg. The Eagles score 69.5 ppg, but truly get it done on the defensive end, holding teams to 61.7 ppg, while posting a plus 9.3 rebounding margin.
Kevin Anderson was the catalyst in Richmond's victory over Vanderbilt. The All-A-10 First Team performer scored a game-high 25 points and sparked a crucial 12-0 second half run to guide the Spiders to victory. He was 10-of-24 from the field, including 4-of-9 from three-point range and scored Richmond's last five points, including the nail in Vanderbilt's coffin; a floater in heavy traffic that gave the Spiders a 68-65 lead with 18.7 seconds left. Justin Harper, also an All-A-10 First Team selection and a potential first round NBA draft pick, added 13 points. The Spiders were incredibly controlled, committing just three turnovers for the game. They also received 23 points from the bench, which was headed by Francis-Cedric Martel's 12 points. Darrius Garrett was also solid in a reserve role, as he scored four points, grabbed five boards and turned away five shots. Harper and Anderson continue to lead the Spiders on the year, averaging 17.7 ppg and 16.7 ppg, respectively. Harper also pulls a team-high 6.9 rpg, although on the whole, Richmond posts a minus 1.9 rebounding margin. Anderson, whose A-10 Tourney MVP performance carried over into the Big Dance, hands out a team-high 3.3 apg. In all, the Spiders score 70.1 ppg. Led by Kevin Smith, an all-league defender, Richmond holds opponents to just 61.1 ppg.
In this surprising third-round matchup, give the edge to Richmond. The Spiders are buoyed by two excellent playmakers, who are peaking at the right moment. Kenneth Faried is a bona fide talent, but he has already taken the Eagles farther than most expected.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Richmond 68, Morehead State 65