Through the first full day of action many lamented the fact that the NCAA tournament lacked drama, with the only two lower-seeded teams winning being a Final Four team from last season (VCU) and the tournament champ of a BCS AQ conference (Colorado).
Thank you, Norfolk State.
Kyle O’Quinn was outstanding, tallying 26 points and 14 rebounds to take advantage of a Missouri front court that had no answer for him to lead 15-seed Norfolk State to the historic 86-84 victory in Omaha.
According to the Associated Press, O’Quinn led Norfolk State back to the locker room shouting, “We messed up some brackets! We messed up some brackets!” And he followed that up with, “we even messed up my bracket.”
In addition to O’Quinn’s efforts the Spartans put forth their best shooting performance of the season, making 10 of 19 from beyond the arc and that’s an impressive feat for a team that made just 31% of their threes entering today’s game.
Chris McEachin (20 points) and Pendarvis Williams (20) knocked down four 3-pointers apiece to lead the barrage from deep.
But it wasn’t just beyond the arc where the Spartans outplayed Missouri, the 2-seed in the West, who shot a more than respectable 13 of 29 from three. Norfolk State hit the boards hard, out-rebounding the Tigers 37-25 and grabbing 14 offensive boards.
Could Missouri have done more defensively and on the boards? Certainly. But this result was about a team that refused to back down, going toe to toe with the Tigers all afternoon.
Michael Dixon Jr. led the Tigers with 22 points with Marcus Denmon and Phil Pressey (eight assists) adding 20 apiece. But Pressey’s three as time expired hit the back iron, giving the MEAC its third win as a 15-seed in the modern era of the NCAA tournament.
The other two victories came in 1997 (Coppin State) and 2001 (Hampton), and while the Spartans didn’t provide an iconic image along the lines of Hampton’s Steve Merfeld their best player did give a memorable on-court interview to Craig Sager.
The Jamaica Queens native received just one scholarship offer out of high school, and O’Quinn effusively thanked the Norfolk State staff for the opportunity. But the question now is whether or not they have enough to beat Florida, who took care of Virginia in the first game of the day.
At this point only a fool would say ‘no’, given the way in which they played today. That 1997 Coppin State team fell to Texas 82-81 in the second round, and there’s no reason to believe that Norfolk State has no chance of taking that a step further on Sunday.