Well it took well into the second day of the “second round” of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship for the Madness to truly arrive in this tournament and wow, what a game from the CenturyLink Arena in Omaha, Nebraska. #15 seed Norfolk State winners of the MEAC Conference Tournament made their tournament debut this afternoon against Big 12 Tournament Champions Missouri Tigers who were heavily favored and projected by many to be a Final Four team this March. That all changed minutes ago as the upset of the year and of the early decade just occurred as the Spartans knocked off the Tigers 86-84 in a thriller on TNT.
Going in to this game not many people gave Norfolk St (26-9 overall, 13-3 MEAC) a chance against the heavily favored Tigers (30-5, 14-4 Big 12) but that’s why you play the game on the hardwood and not on paper. In fact just 1.2% of the entries on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge brackets had Norfolk State upsetting the Tigers so almost everybody who entered the competition and the much of the college basketball world is looking at that score in disbelief, but I can confirm that this just happened!
This is a game that was played very closely the entire 40 minutes with two evenly matched teams fighting for any advantage they could get. Neither team was able to extend any kind of lead in this ballgame with the largest lead being a 15-7 Norfolk State lead at the 13:08 mark in the first half. Missouri was only able to grab on to the lead 3 times in the first half of this game, each time by one measly point. The game went into halftime knotted at 38 and that’s when a few fans started to take notice.
The second half was played much the same way, with Missouri once capturing a 4 point lead with 6:40 seconds left. Marcos Tamares wouldn’t have any of that and answered with a huge 3 point jumper with 6:23 left on the Spartans next possession. Both teams traded possessions without scoring and Rodney McCauley had a tip in with 5:28 to give the Spartans a one point lead at the 5:28 mark. Missouri would only lead once more in the game, on their next possession, after Chris McEachin fouled Phil Pressley and Pressley stepped to the line to make both free throws and give the Tigers a 75-74 lead. On the second Spartan possession after the Pressley free throws, with 4:15 left in the game Marcos Tamares was fouled by Kim English and calmly sank both free shots to give the Spartans a 76-75 lead. They would never look back.
With the score tied at 81-81 Rodney McCauley airballed a baseline jumper with 34.9 seconds left, but the man of the match Kyle O’Quinn (who finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal) was there for the tip-in and was fouled on the play before completing the traditional three point play to give the Spartans an 84-81 lead. On the next play, Marcus Denmon of the Tigers missed a three, and who came up with the rebound other than Mr. O’Quinn. He was able to knock down one of the two free throws with 17 seconds left to make the score 85-81 but couldn’t hit the second. Missouri knocked down a three by Phil Pressley with just 11 seconds remaining to give them some hope, but it was not to be their day.
After the inbounds pass Norfolk State’s Rodney McCauley was fouled by Kim English with with 8 seconds left, giving the Spartans a chance to make it a three point game in the final seconds, but he was not able to make both shots. Instead he knocked down the first to make the score 86-84 and rattled the second one off the rim. In heartbreaking fashion for Tiger fans the rebound went long and the hero Kyle O’Quinn was able to secure it along with a Tiger defender to force a jump ball, which in college is decided by the possession arrow. Luckily for Norfolk State they held possession and O’Quinn was fouled after the play, but he could not seal the game, and missed both shots. Missouri had one final chance by as Phil Pressley’s last shot missed the mark, Norfolk State could finally exhale.
They had done the impossible and knocked off the #2 seed in the West Regional of this year’s tournament and in the process earned themselves a date with the Florida Gators on Sunday. Norfolk State has a chance to be the Cinderella of this year’s tournament but it will need to win at least one more game for that distinction and to make this afternoon’s game look like it wasn’t a fluke. Please, Spartans, win another game this weekend. Two more wins and they could potentially face another Spartan team that many have in the Elite 8 in Tom Izzo’s Michigan State, wouldn’t that be cool?
Norfolk State, you will always be remembered as the team who shocked Missouri the year before they went to the Southeastern Conference. Now its time to knock off another SEC school. Welcome to March.