Norfolk State survives to pull off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history
OMAHA, NE - MARCH 16: Brandon Wheeless #24 of the Norfolk State Spartans celebrates after they won 86-84 against the Missouri Tigers during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at CenturyLink Center on March 16, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 136578624 ** TCN OUT ** (Doug Pensinger, Getty Images / March 16, 2012)
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Not after turning thousands of fans inside CenturyLink Center that had never heard of him at the start of the day into his personal cheering section. Not after bringing Norfolk State to the verge of its biggest win in school history.
So, after Norfolk State's Rodney McCauley missed a free throw with 7.7 seconds left that kept the Spartans ahead by a slim two points against West Region No. 2 seed Missouri, O'Quinn sacrificed his body.
It was the kind of play Norfolk State absolutely had to have to pull off its 86-84 second round win, a victory that made Norfolk State the fifth No. 15 seed in NCAA tournament history to win against a No. 2 seed, and the first since Hampton University beat Iowa State in 2001.
O'Quinn tipped the rebound from McCauley's miss three times over Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe, a Kecoughtan High graduate, before wrestling Missouri's Phil Pressey for the ball out of bounds with 5.1 seconds left.
Jump ball. Possession to Norfolk State.
"I knew I was not going to let it go," said O'Quinn, a 6-foot-10 forward whose only Division I scholarship offer was from Norfolk State.
"When I tipped it over Ricardo Ratliffe's head, it was anybody's ball. I got a second jump. I got a bounce off the ground, and we turned it into a jump ball. I didn't know the possession was our way. My focus was to get it out of their hands so it wouldn't go their way."
O'Quinn, who had 26 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the floor and 14 rebounds, came up with the big possession-winning play, but he nearly saw his fortunes take a 180-degree turn in the final seconds. He was fouled by Ratliffe with 3.8 seconds left, but O'Quinn proceeded to miss both free throws.
After a timeout by Missouri with 2.9 seconds left, Missouri's Phil Pressey missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Fate wouldn't steal this one away from Norfolk State (26-9), which moved on to play Sunday in the third round in Omaha against No. 7 seed Florida.
"I probably would've killed myself on the court if I knew that would've been the deciding factor," said O'Quinn of his missed free throws.
Missouri (30-5) had chances to take command in the closing minutes. Norfolk State, which reached the NCAA tournament for the first-time ever by winning theMid-Eastern Athletic Conferencetournament championship, never let the Tigers grab control.
"We tried all week, our coaching staff, explaining to them how good Norfolk State is," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "You don't see them on TV. The guys don't know their players. You worry they don't understand."
Pressey, who scored 20 points, hit a pair of free throws with 5:09 left that gave Missouri its final lead 75-74. Norfolk State answered with a 7-0 run in the next two minutes and 53 seconds, including a huge 3-pointer by Chris McEachin with 3:40 remaining that put the Spartans up 79-75.
Missouri came right back, with Michael Dixon putting in a pair of free throws with 50 seconds left that tied the game 81-81. Dixon led Missouri with 22 points.
On Norfolk State's next possession, McEachin air-balled a jumper from the right side, but O'Quinn was waiting on the left side of the basket to collect the ball in mid-air for a lay-up. O'Quinn was fouled by Matt Pressey on the lay-up, and O'Quinn proceeded to hit the ensuing free throw to give Norfolk State an 84-81 advantage with 34.9 seconds left.
O'Quinn went on to make 1 of 2 free throws with 16.9 seconds remaining to increase Norfolk State's led to 85-81, but Phil Pressey kept Missouri's hopes barely afloat on a 3-pointer with 10.1 seconds left.
Norfolk State, which shot 54.2 percent from the floor and which got 20 points each from McEachin and Pendarvis Williams, was the beneficiary of some good fortune down the stretch.
Missouri, which shot 52.7 percent and was out-rebounded 37-25, called a timeout after Pressey's 3-pointer with 10.1 seconds left. On the inbounds play under Norfolk State's basket, McCauley's pass bounced off Marcos Tamares' hands, and directly back to McCauley.
A replay showed McCauley hadn't established his footing in-bounds when he collected the ricochet, but officials didn't see it. Norfolk State had the ball, setting up the crazy final 10 seconds – and the Spartans' wild postgame celebration.
"My assistant coach (Robert) Jones hit me on the leg one time because there was a call made that I reacted to, so he wanted to keep me calm so I could keep (the team) calm," said Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans, whose team shot 52.6 percent (10 of 19) from 3-point range. "That was part of it, remaining as calm as possible so that we could finish out the game."
After some spirited bouncing at midcourt, and a heartfelt hug O'Quinn offered a stunned Phil Pressey, Norfolk State's euphoria spilled off the court and into the locker room.
"Barack Obama, we ruined your bracket," said Norfolk State's Jamal Fuentes, referring to the President's personal bracket selection of Missouri as one of his predicted Final Four participants. "We still love you, but we ruined your bracket."