DENVER — On the verge of seeing his unheralded, 13th-seeded Morehead State program turn into something much more impressive, the coach could have called a play for his NBA-bound center or his guard who couldn't miss.
Instead, he decided to go with a dream.
Executing a play that came to his coach the night before, Morehead State's Demonte Harper dribbled patiently and watched the clock tick down. Then, he stepped up behind the 3-point line and swished the shot with 4.2 seconds left Thursday for a 62-61 victory over No. 4 Louisville and the first big upset of the NCAA tournament.
"The coach said, 'Hey, I dreamed about this last night, this exact situation,'" Harper said. "He said, 'I know exactly who I'm going to. I'm going to put it right in your hands, Demonte.' He said, 'At 6 seconds, I want you to attack and pull up and hit the shot.' I hit the shot. It feels unreal right now."
After Harper's go-ahead basket, the Cardinals (25-10) had a chance to win it, but Morehead State's best player, center Kenneth Faried, blocked Mike Marra's attempt from the corner.
And that's how little-known coach Donnie Tyndall, and not Louisville's Rick Pitino, found himself on the floor of the Pepsi Center celebrating. Morehead State of Kentucky — enrollment 9,000 at the base of the Appalachian Mountains — won its first main-draw game in the NCAA tournament since 1984 and will play No. 12 Richmond, a 69-66 upset winner over No. 5 Vanderbilt in a later Southwest region game.
"I think to be a first-round game against an in-state power, to be able to knock them off, I don't think it's ever been bigger than that in the history of our school," Tyndall said.
Chris Smith had 17 points for Louisville, which closed the year on its first two-game losing streak of the season. The Cardinals played the end of the game without their leading scorer, Preston Knowles, who needed to be helped off the court after spraining his left foot with 8:51 left.
"This is as tough a loss as I've had in coaching and I've been coaching a long time," Pitino said.
Richmond 69, Vanderbilt 66
DENVER — Richmond added another upset to an impressive NCAA tournament resume that already had several.
And Vanderbilt exited early — again.
Kevin Anderson scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half, including a floater with 18.7 seconds remaining that helped seal 12th-seeded Richmond's 69-66 win against No. 5 seed Vanderbilt on Thursday in the Southwest regional.
The Spiders (28-7) sprang the second upset of the day at Pepsi Center after tiny Morehead State, the 13th seed, used a 3-pointer by Demonte Harper in the waning seconds to beat fourth-seeded Louisville, 62-61.
But while Morehead State players fell on the floor, writhing in the celebration, the Spiders simply shook hands and walked to the locker room. This hardly counts as a shocker, especially considering their history in March.
Richmond beat an Auburn team led by Charles Barkley during the 1984 NCAA tournament and picked off second-seeded Syracuse in 1991.
This is the Spiders' first NCAA tournament win since they knocked out South Carolina in 1998 as a No. 14 seed, but the reputation has been cemented.
Pittsburgh 74, UNC Asheville 51
WASHINGTON — Matt Dickey chased down a loose ball and fed J.P. Primm for a fast break, cutting UNC Asheville's deficit to six with 15:22 to play and prompting Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon to call one of those need-to-stop-the-momentum timeouts.
When it's No. 16 vs. No. 1, that's about as good as it usually gets.
The rest was familiar. The top seed went on a run, outscoring the bottom seed by 16 points to the finish the game. The Panthers kept the perfect 1-vs.-16 mark in the NCAA tournament firmly intact Thursday, pulling away to beat the Bulldogs 74-51.
"In the first half we played really poorly, careless with the ball," said Pitt's Gary McGhee. "We didn't move the ball around. We didn't get the loose balls. But then in the second half, we turned it up."
The Panthers (28-5) advanced to play another set of Bulldogs — No. 8 seed and last year's tournament runner-up Butler — on Saturday.
UNC Asheville (20-14) had earned a little bit more pub than the usual No. 16 seed. Dickey became a YouTube favorite with a steal-and-shoot buzzer-beater late in the regular season, and he hit the 3-pointer that forced overtime in the win over Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday in a Dayton play-in game.
Now the whirlwind journey has finally come to an end for coach Eddie Biedenbach and his players, but at least they can say they made a game of it.
"We went in at halftime down five, and that's where we wanted to be," Dickey said. "Make sure that it was still a game. In the second half we missed a couple shots and they hit a couple of 3s."