Underdog Norfolk State's upset win shakes up the brackets

Posted: March 17, 2012

So how are your brackets doing this morning?

It's safe to say most of you have ripped up, tossed or maybe eaten your bracket following a historic Friday of the NCAA tournament when, for the first time ever, a 15th seed knocked off a No. 2 seed twice in the same day.

First, it was Norfolk State, champion of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, shocking Big 12 titlist Missouri, 86-84, in Omaha, Neb. Less than three hours later, Lehigh, the Patriot League winner from Bethlehem, put the finishing touches on a 75-70 win in Greensboro, N.C.

It was difficult to determine which was the bigger surprise. Missouri was ranked No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll and was the fourth-most popular pick to win the national championship in the ESPN bracket challenge (7.1 percent of the 6.45 million entries).

Duke, though playing without injured starter Ryan Kelly, owns a storied NCAA tradition and was playing only 55 miles down Tobacco Road from its campus in Durham.

But when you consider that a 15 seed had defeated a No. 2 only four times since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the magnitude of what transpired on Friday initially was difficult to fully comprehend.

As Norfolk State celebrated on the court after the game, you had to wonder how Bruiser Flint must have felt.

When Flint's Drexel Dragons were being dissected by the national media about their level of NCAA worthiness, the dissenters were sniffing, "Yeah, but they lost to Norfolk State," the eventual champion of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, ranked 30th of the 33 Division I leagues.

Well, if anyone saw the Spartans prevail against the Tigers, his or her opinion would change.

"Still remember some folks charting Norfolk State as a bad loss for Drexel," tweeted Mike DeCourcey, college basketball writer for The Sporting News, during the game. "That's where the whole 'watching games' thing helps out."

DeCourcey was referring to statements by Jeff Hathaway, chairman of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee, who said that the folks entrusted with the selection of the 37 at-large tournament teams saw many games of large and small schools alike on television or the Internet.

Still, with a strength of schedule of 308, the Spartans weren't expected to knock off mighty Missouri. But the underdogs played loose and obviously enjoyed the experience. They were led by Kyle O'Quinn, a 6-foot-10 senior from Queens, and Pendarvis Williams, a 6-6 sophomore who played at Bodine High School in Philadelphia before leaving to spend his senior season at the Hun School in Princeton.

O'Quinn had 26 points, including the tiebreaking three-point play with 34.9 seconds to play, and 14 rebounds. Williams hit all four of his three-point attempts and added 20 points.

And to give you an idea of how Missouri played, the Tigers are the first team in NCAA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field (they shot 52.7), make at least 10 threes (they knocked down 13) and commit fewer than 10 turnovers (eight) and lose, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

As for Lehigh, people knew how tough their players were by their win at Bucknell in the Patriot League championship game. The Mountain Hawks also played Michigan State and Iowa State tough on the road before losing.

But with the crowd in the Greensboro Coliseum, especially North Carolina fans, cheering their every move, the Mountain Hawks showed determination and poise led by C.J. McCollum, the two-time Patriot League player of the year, who scored 30 points.

A No. 15 never has gotten out of the first weekend but now Norfolk State has Florida in its sights while the Mountain Hawks take on the Notre Dame-Xavier winner, both on Sunday.

Of course, the NCAA tournament for many now is purely for the enjoyment of watching. A lot of your (and our) brackets have found the bottom of the wastebasket, even that of O'Quinn.

"We even messed up my bracket," he said with a broad smile.

Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com or follow him on Twitter at @joejulesinq


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