Battle of The Birds

Published 1:26 am Wednesday, March 18, 2009

DAYTON — As a New Jersey guy, center Kenneth Faried had never heard of Morehead State the first time the school came calling.

No wonder. The Eagles won only four games as recently as 2005-06, hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1984, and were pretty much an afterthought in a state where basketball comes in shades of Kentucky blue and Louisville red.

Now, there’s a little more room to brag in the Bluegrass.

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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.

‘‘For every fan out there, this is for you,’’ said Faried, who had 14 points and 21 rebounds. ‘‘Even for those in the last 25 years when we haven’t made it, this one is for them.’’

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.

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.

‘‘I think we’ll do a lot better,’’ said Maze Stallworth, who added 11 points. ‘‘That game is a big blur to us. A lot of us don’t remember that game — or don’t want to remember that game. It’s great to play them one more time on a neutral court.’’