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Norfolk State's upset reverberates in Omaha

By Dave Skretta

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 17 2012 9:40 a.m. MDT

Norfolk State players celebrate in the closing seconds as they defeat Missouri 86-84 in an NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., Friday, March 16, 2012.

Nati Harnik, Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. — Everybody seemed to be watching Kyle O'Quinn and plucky Norfolk State take on mighty Missouri.

Florida coach Billy Donovan was watching. He sat courtside Friday afternoon, trying to get a bead on the team his Gators would be playing in the third round Sunday night.

Ray McCallum and his Detroit teammates were watching. They were huddled in their hotel rooms, drawing inspiration as their fellow No. 15 seed tried to upset the vaunted Tigers.

Even second-seeded Kansas and player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson were watching, no doubt getting a lesson in just how tenuous life can be in the NCAA tournament.

"It's March," Robinson said, "and anybody is capable of getting beat right now."

Missouri knows that all too well.

O'Quinn turned in the finest game of his career at the biggest moment in the history of Norfolk State basketball, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds in the Spartans' monumental 86-84 upset of the second-seeded Tigers on Friday.

It was the first domino in what turned out to be wild day of upsets — No. 2 seed Duke would go down to Lehigh, and fourth-seeded Michigan fell to No. 13 seed Ohio.

"We messed up some brackets! We messed up some brackets!" O'Quinn bellowed in the hallways of CenturyLink Arena, before turning a corner and seeing a pack of reporters.

"We even messed up my bracket," he said sheepishly.

So it will be Norfolk State, in its first NCAA tournament as winners of the MEAC, who will play Florida on Sunday for a spot in the round of 16 in the West Regional.

"Great, great game. They did enjoy it," Donovan said after watching the final minutes of the Spartans' game from press row. The Gators' coach briefly soaked in the celebration before slipping away to begin preparing for their upcoming game.

"That was one of the most intense basketball games I've ever been a part of," Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans said. "Our guys fought hard, and I'm very, very proud of them."

Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin each added 20 points for the Spartans (26-9), the fifth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 and the first since fellow conference member Hampton in 2001.

"You always go into the game with a sense of confidence," O'Quinn said, "but I never thought it was an upset-alert until that buzzer went off.

"At the end of the game," he said, "that's when I thought it would happen."

O'Quinn had a chance to take some drama out of the final possession, but the 70 percent foul shooter missed two free throws with 3.8 seconds left. Missouri coach Frank Haith called a timeout to set up a final play, and Phil Pressey got a good look at a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

It clanked off the back iron as O'Quinn leaped for joy.

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, though senior guard Kim English was held to two points on 1-for-7 shooting.

"I'm very disappointed, as everyone in that locker room was," Haith said. "I hurt for those seniors because they put so much into this. They had high expectations."

So did Horizon League champion Detroit.

McCallum, the Titans' star guard, said he watched the Norfolk State game unfold from his hotel room before coming over to the arena. He remembers turning to forward Eli Holman, his roommate, and asking a seemingly innocent question: "Why can't that be us?"

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