Get to know the defensive-minded Morehead State Eagles

WVU Basketball

Morehead State punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade after pushing through and winning the OVC Tournament. As the 14-seed in the Midwest region, the Eagles drew a matchup with West Virginia in the Round of 64, the first meeting between the two programs since 2011.

The Eagles have made seven appearances in the Big Dance, and are making their first appearance since knocking off in-state rival Louisville in the 2011 first round. This year’s berth has a unique tint to it, as Morehead State is the sole representative in this year’s NCAA Tournament of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“It’s special, because basketball means a lot to everyone throughout the state of Kentucky no matter where your allegiance lies as a fan, and everyone looks forward to March Madness, especially since this is the first tournament in two years due to the pandemic,” “So to be the team that gets the opportunity to represent a prideful basketball state in this NCAA Tournament, it’s pretty special, it really is, and I’m sure once we hit that court on Friday night as the only team that gets to do it, it’s going to mean a little bit more to us in that moment as well.”

“I think the biggest focus is focusing on us right now and the opportunity that we’ve got, but there’s certainly a lot of inspiration to draw from past tournament experiences with teams like ourself,” said MSU coach Preston Spradlin. “I think the best thing for us is finding a common theme with teams like that, whether it was [Coach] Donnie [Tyndall]’s team in 2011, or Stephen F. Austin a number of years ago or whatever it was, and the common themes are toughness and togetherness, which hits on what we’ve got.”

In a broad stroke, those are two good adjectives to describe Morehead State. They began the season with six losses in their first 10 games, but flipped the switch in conference time — even taking 16 wins in their last 17 before running through the conference tournament.

Defense was the driving force for this success. The Eagles led the OVC in several key defensive categories, like points allowed, defensive field goal percentage, blocks and 3-point defense.

WVU coach Bob Huggins describes their scheme as “a pack line likeness,” as they prioritize guarding the ball and preventing inside penetration.

“We’ve gotta do a good job of moving,” he said. “Hopefully we can get them spread with the number of people we’re going to put on the floor who can conceivably make shots.”

Morehead State is led offensively by freshman big man Johni Broome, who took home the OVC Tournament’s MVP award after averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds in those three games. Broome has grown up a lot throughout this season and is getting a veteran treatment on the court from opponents.

“He’s commanding a lot of attention,” Spradlin said. “Double teams from different areas, different players on the court, he’s done a really nice job of recognizing those, playing with pace and making sure he’s not turning the ball over and making sure that he’s getting assists out of the posts for us which is really important because of how much we play through him.”

The scoring is supplemented by a pair of juniors guards, DeVon Cooper and Skyelar Potter, who combined this season for 24 points per game.

“I think the biggest focus is focusing on us right now and the opportunity that we’ve got, but there’s certainly a lot of inspiration to draw from past tournament experiences with teams like ourself,” said MSU coach Preston Spradlin. “I think the best thing for us is finding a common theme with teams like that, whether it was [Coach] Donnie [Tyndall]’s team in 2011, or Stephen F. Austin a number of years ago or whatever it was, and the common themes are toughness and togetherness, which hits on what we’ve got.”

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