The Norfolk State Spartans entered the 2012 NCAA Tournament as a No. 15 seed after finishing second in the MEAC and winning the conference tournament. They would face the Missouri Tigers, a No. 2 seed that had just won the Big 12 Tournament by defeating Baylor and was ranked third in the nation upon entering their first round matchup against the Spartans.
It was Norfolk State’s first ever appearance in March Madness and on paper, the David vs. Goliath matchup leaned heavily in favor of Goliath. Mizzou’s new head coach Frank Haith had just won AP Coach of the Year honors. The last time a No. 15 seed defeated a No. 2 seed was when Hampton University upset Iowa State in 2001, but Norfolk State was ready to go from the opening tip and sprinted out to an early eight-point lead.
The Tigers would answer with three consecutive three-pointers to take a one-point lead. Current New York Knicks backup center Kyle O’Quinn was a man among boys in this contest, out-working the athletic but much smaller four- guard lineup fielded by Mizzou. Norfolk wasn’t supposed to be able to keep up with their speed and athleticism. However, it was the Tigers who could not keep up, especially in the paint.
The Spartans out-rebounded Missouri by 35-26 while shooting 54 percent from the floor. O’Quinn drained a three from straight away, then scored on an and-one to give the Spartans a 38-36 lead. The score was tied at halftime and it was clear that Missouri, picked by many to make a deep tournament run, was in for more of a fight than they probably expected.
Early scores by Ricardo Ratliffe appeared to signify and awakening for the Mizzou offense that finished sixth in the nation in scoring that season, averaging 80.4 per game, but the Spartans wouldn’t yield.
The Tigers were up, 73-69, with 7:15 remaining, but O’Quinn and the Spartans were up to the challenge. With the score later tied at 81, his offensive rebound and put-back resulted in yet another and-one. Phil Pressey hit a three to bring Mizzou within one.
O’Quinn missed two free throws to set up the dramatic ending that still haunts Mizzou fans to this day. Phil Pressey’s desperation heave fell short as Norfolk State, who got all of their scoring from the starting five, sealed the tremendous 86-84 upset. O’Quinn finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
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