Kyle O’Quinn’s booming voice echoed through the halls, the jovial center for Norfolk State riding the euphoria of a monumental upset of Missouri as the words spilled out of his mouth faster than he could think.
”We messed up some brackets! We messed up some brackets!” he bellowed, before turning a corner and seeing a pack of reporters.
”We even messed up my bracket,” he said sheepishly.
O’Quinn put together the finest game of his career at the biggest moment in the history of Norfolk State basketball. The senior finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds, helping the No. 15 seed Spartans to an 86-84 victory over the second-seeded Tigers on Friday.
All those brackets that had the Big 12 tournament champs advancing to face Florida in the West Regional – perhaps even all the way to the Final Four – can be torn up. It’s the MEAC champions who are moving on.
Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin each added 20 points for the Spartans (26-9), who have already made their first trip to the NCAA tournament a memorable one. They became the fifth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 and the first since fellow conference member Hampton in 2001.
”You always go into the game with a sense of confidence,” O’Quinn said, ”but I never thought it was an upset-alert until that buzzer went off.
”At the end of the game,” he said, ”that’s when I thought it would happen.”
O’Quinn had a chance to take some drama out of the final possession, but the 70-percent foul shooter missed two free throws with 3.8 seconds left. Missouri coach Frank Haith called timeout to set up a final play, and Phil Pressey got a pretty good look at a 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded.
It clanked off the back iron as O’Quinn leaped for joy.
Pressey fell to the court in disbelief.
”We just shocked everybody,” Spartans swingman Brandon Wheeless said.
Michael Dixon led Missouri (30-5) with 22 points, and Pressey and fellow guard Marcus Denmon finished with 20 points each. Pressey also contributed eight assists, though senior guard Kim English was held to two points on 1-for-7 shooting.
”I’m very disappointed, as everyone in that locker room was,” Haith said. ”I hurt for those seniors because they put so much into this. They had high expectations.”
The Tigers rolled into the NCAAs on the strength of a dominant run to the Big 12 tournament title, rarely getting tested in three games in Kansas City. That was enough to make Missouri a trendy Final Four pick, something the school had never before accomplished.
Norfolk State made sure it wouldn’t happen this year, either.
The plucky Spartans shot 54.2 percent from the field – 62.5 percent in the second half – and managed to knock down 10 of 19 3-point shots. They also turned the ball over just 11 times against the Tigers’ quick-handed guards, who had caused fits for most teams this season.
”We knew coming into this game if we let them hang around it was going to be a ballgame. They hung around the whole game,” Preseey said. ”They made the plays at the right time.”
The Spartans opened the game on a 15-7 surge, turning most of the folks dressed in Florida blue and Virginia orange into surrogate fans. And when Missouri jumped ahead on the strength of three consecutive 3-pointers, Norfolk State didn’t seem to be rattled.
Fifth-year coach Anthony Evans simply called timeout and Norfolk State regrouped.
Things were going so well for the Spartans in the first half that O’Quinn, an 18-percent shooter from beyond the arc, swished one from the top of the key. The big guy added a conventional three-point play later in the half, slamming his hand onto the court after he was fouled and then stepping to the free throw line and giving Norfolk State a 38-36 lead.
Dixon’s basket with 23.4 seconds left meant a tie game at halftime.
Missouri spent nearly the entire 20-minute break in its locker room. The Spartans were back on the court before it was half over, putting up shots like it was a Sunday afternoon shootaround.
They must have liked the way things were going.
Marcos Tamares scored right out of halftime and the Spartans kept plugging away. Ricardo Ratliffe made a couple of baskets for Missouri and Williams hit another deep jumper for Norfolk State. Dixon hit a 3 from the corner and O’Quinn scored underneath.
The only time Missouri threatened to create some breathing room came when Pressey followed his own basket with a 3-pointer with 7:15 to go, giving the Tigers a 73-69 lead.
Tamares was there to provide a 3-pointer of his own.
The game was tied 81-all when O’Quinn plucked an airball out of midair and put it back with 34.9 seconds left, getting fouled in the process. The three-point play made it 84-81.
O’Quinn added the first of two free throws moments later, but Pressey hit a deep 3-pointer from the wing with just a shade over 10 seconds left, giving Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon – seated two rows behind the Tigers’ bench – some reason to hope.
Rodney McCauley restored an 86-84 lead with the first of two free throws, and after a loose ball wound up in Norfolk State’s hands, O’Quinn missed both of his foul shots.
That set the stage for Missouri’s dramatic final possession.
A possession that nobody at tiny Norfolk State will ever forget.
”Coming into the game, I believed it. I believed it from the jump. Honest to God’s truth,” McCauley said. ”We’ve got good shooters. We dig deep. We’re not ready to go home yet. We’ve got five seniors. We’re ready to keep playing.”