After nearly two days of chalk, America finally found itself a Cinderella. No. 15 seed Norfolk State busted brackets everywhere Friday, pulling off the biggest shocker of this year’s NCAA tournament when it upset No. 2 seed Missouri, 86-84.
The Spartans became just the fifth No. 15 seed ever, and the first since Hampton defeated Iowa State in 2001, to defeat a No. 2 seed in the round of 64. Perhaps more impressive was that after a back-and-forth second half that featured 11 lead changes and nine ties, Norfolk State never wilted, hitting big shot after big shot whenever it appeared Missouri would re-gain control.
Center Kyle O’Quinn led the Spartans with 26 points and 14 rebounds, and scored the decisive basket when he completed a three-point play with 34.9 seconds left and the score tied at 81. Guards Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin each added 20 points on a day when Norfolk State hit 10 of its 19 three-pointers and shot better than 54 percent from the floor.
Missouri, which entered Friday as a 21-point favorite, didn’t go down without a fight. After O’Quinn put the Spartans ahead by four on the free-throw line, Tigers guard Phil Pressey (20 points) hit a three-pointer from NBA range to cut Norfolk State’s lead to 85-84.
But when Norfolk State’s Rodney McCauley missed the second of two free throws with eight seconds remaining, O’Quinn forced a crucial jump ball with the possession arrow pointing towards the Spartans. The Jamaica, N.Y. native missed two free throws with a chance to seal the victory, but just 2.9 seconds remained on the clock and Pressey missed a three-pointer off the back rim to seal this unlikely upset.
The Tigers got 22 points off the bench from guard Michael Dixon, including a three-pointer and two free throws that tied the score with 50 seconds remaining. But the same four-guard lineup that made Missouri a trendy Final Four pick under first-year Coach Frank Haith ultimately did in the Tigers. Forward Kim English went just 1 for 7 from the field and scored only two points.
Norfolk State, making its first NCAA tournament appearance ever, outrebounded Missouri, 35-23, which included a 14-6 advatantage on the offensive glass. The Spartans won the MEAC and beat CAA regular-season champion Drexel earlier this year, but their resume also included a loss to Elizabeth City State.
None of that matters anymore now that the Spartans have become a part of NCAA tournament history.
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