OMAHA, Nebraska -- Welcome to the NCAA tournament, Norfolk State.
Might as well stick around a while.
Kyle O’Quinn had 26 points and 14 rebounds, making several key plays in the closing minutes, and the gritty No. 15 seed Spartans held on through a tense final minute to topple second-seeded Missouri 86-84 on Friday in the West Regional.
Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin each added 20 points for the MEAC champion Spartans (26-9), who 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.
O’Quinn had a chance to take some of the drama out of the finish when he went to the free throw line with 3.8 seconds to go, but the 70-percent foul shooter missed both tries.
Missouri coach Frank Haith called a timeout with 2.9 seconds left to set up a final play, and the ball wound up in the hands of Phil Pressey. He took a couple of hard dribbles and let loose a 3-pointer from the wing that clanked off the back iron as the buzzer sounded.
O’Quinn leaped for joy. Pressey fell to the court in disbelief.
And the roar that rose inside CenturyLink Arena from anybody wearing anything other than black and gold may have drowned out the sound of brackets getting torn up all over America.
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.
The Tigers rolled into the tournament 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.
Missouri knew right away that Norfolk State wasn’t going away easily.
The Spartans opened the game on 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 a timeout to regroup, and McEachin curled in a 3-pointer when play resumed to push the Spartans back ahead.
Things were going so well for Norfolk State 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 even 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 still tied 81-all when Rodney McCauley airballed a baseline jumper with 34.9 seconds left. O’Quinn was there to pluck it out of midair and put it back, getting fouled by the Tigers’ Matt Pressey in the process. O’Quinn’s free throw gave the Spartans an 84-81 lead.
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—reason to hope.
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 his two big foul shots.
That set the stage for Missouri’s dramatic final possession.
A possession that nobody at tiny Norfolk State will ever forget.