OMAHA, NE--Missouri knew it was possible. Four times in 108 previous tries, a 15 seed had beaten a two seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"We knew they were capable," Matt Pressey said. "We knew who was capable. But, I mean, gosh, they made some tough shots. We just didn't take care of the things that we could take care of and that's what hurt us. I feel like if we'd have done those little things, we might have got out of here with a four or five-point win."
The Tigers didn't. The 15th-seeded Spartans, in the first NCAA Tournament game in school history, pulled off what might be the biggest upset in more than 70 years of the event. Phil Pressey had a last-second look from the left wing that would have given the Tigers a one-point win. It bounced harmlessly off the iron and an arena that had become pro-Norfolk State erupted as the Spartans pulled off the 86-84 shocker.
"The coaches did a great job getting us ready," Marcus Denmon said. "But they can't go out and get loose balls on the floor, can't make free throws or get rebounds. That's for the players to do and we came up short."
"They did their job," Steve Moore said. "They made shots. They played better."
The Tigers shot 52.7 percent for the game and 58.3 percent in the second half. They made 13 three-pointers.
But Norfolk State had an answer for every punch the Tigers threw. Missouri never led by more than four points.
Norfolk State hit 61.5 percent of its shots, including five of six three-pointers, in the second half and shot 54.2 percent for the game.
The Spartans, led by MEAC Player of the Year Kyle O'Quinn, brutalized Missouri on the boards 37-25, including 14 offensive rebounds.
"We have good shooters," Rodney McCauley said. "We might have had some slumps throughout the season, but I knew my guys could do it. We dug deep and weren't ready to go home yet. We have five seniors and want to continue playing."
Missouri has eight seniors of its own, five of whom see regular time in the Tigers' rotation. Marcus Denmon scored 14 first half points and 20 for the game. Ricardo Ratliffe scored 14 and Matt Pressey six. But Moore was scoreless with five rebounds and four fouls and Kim English, who hit 26-of-33 shots on his way to the Big 12 Tournament Most Oustanding Player honor last weekend, had just two points on 1-of-7 shooting.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Michael Dixon Jr. said. "I didn't expect this to happen at all. I just feel so upset for the seniors because I know how much hard work and dedication they put into this. How long they've been here and how much they've done for the university. I'm just really upset for them."
O'Quinn was the biggest thorn in Missouri's side with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Pendarvis Williams added 20 and hit all four of his three-point shots and Chris McEachin had 20 as well.
"The pep talk was just to believe," the Spartans' Brandon Wheeless said. "Believe that we were the better team and believe that we can go out there and win some games. That is exactly what we did."
The Spartans certainly are a major part of the story. But big-time upsets are remembered more for the favorite that goes down than for the Cinderella who slips on the glass slipper. Missouri knows that despite 30 wins and a Big 12 tournament title, this one will linger.
"This is what I'm always going to remember," Dixon said. "Forever."
"We did some good stuff," Ratliffe said. "But when it really counted, we didn't show up."
And now, there is no need to show up Sunday. Norfolk State marches on to a date with Florida. Missouri goes home, the first 30-win team ever to lose its opening game in the NCAA Tournament.