OMAHA, Neb. -- They were screaming, these kids, these Norfolk State Spartans who had just pulled off the signature upset of the 2012 NCAA tournament. They were screaming as they ran off the court at the CenturyLink Center, ran through the tunnel, ran toward the locker room.
Fifteenth-seeded Norfolk State had just beaten No. 2 Missouri 86-84, pulling off one of the greatest upsets in NCAA tournament history and doing it with style and cool points. Look at that score. Eighty-six points for Norfolk State? This wasn't one of those upsets where the underdog takes the air out of the ball, limits possessions, keeps the score close because one team can't run away from another if both teams are barely moving.
|No. 15 seed beats a No. 2|
|Year||No. 15||No. 2|
|1997||Coppin State||S. Carolina|
This wasn't that. This was Norfolk State from the MEAC behaving as if it had as much offensive ability as Missouri from the
Big 12 SEC, and then proving it. Only four No. 15 seeds had beaten a No. 2 seed in 109 attempts all time before Friday, but Norfolk State was full of confidence before the game, too. The grease board in the Spartans' locker room had a handful of last-minute exhortations -- "limit Denmon/English" ... "No offensive rebounds/one shot for Missouri" -- but the most telling note was the second note on the list.
Wear them down.
Can you believe that? This cheeky team from the MEAC decided it was going to wear down that monster from the BCS conference -- and damned if Norfolk State didn't do it.
The Spartans shot 54.2 percent from the floor overall, 52.9 percent (10 of 19) on 3-pointers. The only thing they didn't shoot well were free throws, where they missed three of four attempts in the final 7.7 seconds to lower their game tally to 66.7 percent (12 of 18) and give Missouri one final chance at the tie.
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Tie? Screw that. Missouri got cheeky on its own right in the final seconds, ignoring a higher-percentage chance for a tie by going for it all -- a 3-pointer from Phil Pressey at the buzzer, a shot that hit the rim and bounced away, sending Norfolk State players sprinting all over the court until they decided to move their party into the locker room, still screaming as they disappeared off the court, into the tunnel and down the hall to their locker room.
Not in shock, though. This team didn't look stunned. This team looked thrilled and proud, but not shocked.
Wear them down.
Where did that confidence come from? Norfolk State lost to Illinois State 68-36 earlier this season, and Illinois State was No. 100 in the final RPI. Then again, Norfolk State was No. 128.
You wouldn't know it from watching them jetting up and down the floor Friday, pulling up for 3-pointers by Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin or shoving the ball down Missouri's throat courtesy of the splendid Kyle O'Quinn, a 6-foot-10 future pro -- maybe NBA, maybe not, but he'll get paid a lot of money to play basketball somewhere on this planet -- who had 26 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and two assists.
O'Quinn wasn't just the best big man on the floor -- he played like he knew it. He sized up Missouri early, saw no more resistance from the Tigers' post players than he'd experienced in the MEAC, and went for it. Actually, he got less resistance from Missouri than he got from the MEAC. O'Quinn was the league's player of the year after averaging 15.9 ppg, but he topped that by 10 points against a Missouri team whose weakness, team defense, was on display all over the floor.
Missouri's defense was so bad -- or maybe Norfolk State's offense was so good -- that Williams (20 points on just nine shots), McEachin (20 points, 14 shots) and Rodney McCauley (nine points, six assists, no turnovers) looked every bit as good as Missouri's vaunted backcourt of Pressey (20 points, eight assists, three turnovers), Michael Dixon (22, five and two), Marcus Denmon (20 points) and Kim English (two points).
The difference, then, was O'Quinn -- though his two missed free throws with 3.8 seconds left, after a gallant offensive rebound, provided Missouri the chance to go for the win.
Pressey went for it, and missed. Missouri slinked off the court, a 30-5 season that nobody will want to remember for a while. Norfolk screamed, a 26-9 team that will next try to beat Florida on Sunday in the Round of 32. Try to beat Florida, no doubt, by doing to the Gators what Norfolk State did to Missouri.
Wear them down.