Norfolk State continues the “Missouri fan curse” in biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history (links)

Final – 3.16.2012 1 2 Total
Norfolk St. Spartans 38 48 86
Missouri Tigers 38 46 84

Brian Graham, KC SportsNation

And just like that, what was one of the greatest seasons in Mizzou history was over in a matter of seconds. And the Tigers still don’t have a Final Four, and at this rate, I don’t see any reason why they will ever go to one. Its a curse. A curse that will ever haunt Tiger Nation.

Maybe that is why I’m already over the loss. We Tiger fans have had a lifetime of preparation for disappointment. Whether its lackluster football for 20 years or and up and down basketball program to being on the verge of greatness – the 2007 football team, 2011-12 basketball team – only to fail. We are used to it.

But, these seniors – 4-year guys Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Steve Moore and Jarrett Sutton and Ricardo Ratliffe and Matt Pressey – deserved better than a 86-84 loss to 15-seed Norfolk State, according to Vegas (22 point spread) was the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, and only the fifth time a 2-seed had fallen to a 15-seed in 109 tries. They are the winningest class in school history, have two Big 12 titles and are only the sixth class to make the NCAA Tournament all four years.

They gave us moments, but everyone thought this team would give us THE MOMENT – a Final Four – or more. They had the Elite 8 run as freshmen, but never made it past the second round, losing the past two years in the first round.

Trying to quantify what this group of seniors meant to basketball at the University of Missouri is one of the most futile exercises my brain can conjure up at the moment.

“I bled, I sweat, I cried for these six letters on the front of my jersey every night,” English said. “I came here with aspirations of taking this basketball program somewhere our fans couldn’t fathom.”

English’s legacy began as a freshman when he carried Mizzou past Marquette, then came off the bench to hit two free throws to ice the victory, Denmon’s already solid legacy being cast in stone against Kansas and a “project” recruit named Steve Moore becoming one of the more oddly beloved figures in MU fandom. These moments are part of Missouri history, yet we weep (literally for some, metaphorically for others) for the moment they could never provide. But it’s not what they did, but rather what they meant, that makes this senior class what it is and makes the people that comprise it who they are.

Forever people will remember this epic upset. While depressing – and embarrassing – as the loss was it can not overshadow was this class has done, and what they did this year. They won 30 games with an undersized 7-man rotation, rolled through non-con, put on a show for the nation when ESPN GameDay when Kansas came to town and steamrolled through the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, MISSOURI.

That is what makes this loss even more stunning. Many people – including President Obama – were picking Missouri to go to the Final Four. For once in my life it seemed possible. The Tigers were heading into the Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the field.

***

Missouri knew they were in for a game when they trailed 15-7.

Then, Missouri scored nine straight – three 3’s – to gain a 16-15 lead. But Norfolk State (26-9) would not go away. After a timeout, a Norfolk 3 put the Spartans back up 18-16.

Mike Dixon scored with 23.4 seconds left to tie the game at 38-all going into halftime. The Tigers were thoroughly outplayed and were lucky to be tied. Both teams were shooting 48% and Denmon (4-8 from 3) and Kyle O’Quinn (dominated) both had 14 points.

Everyone was waiting for Mizzou to go on one of their signature 10-0 or 17-2 scoring runs in a matter of a few minutes.

But, it never came.

Missouri led by four points twice and I thought, ok here it comes. But, both times the Tigers were down just minutes later. The second time came when Phil Pressey followed his own basket with a 3-pointer with 7:15 to go, giving the Tigers a 73-69 lead. Then the Tigers went without a field goal for five minutes as the Spartans went on a 14-2 run, taking a 81-75 and the game was all but over. But somehow, thanks to a Pressey drive, a turnover and two missed free throws and Dixon’s game-tying shot, Mizzou was even at 81-all. OK, now Missouri is going to win.

Nope.

After a great defensive possession, O’Quinn tips-in an airball and is fouled in the process, making the free throw, putting the Spartans back up 84-81.

Denmon missed an AWFUL, long 3 with 17.9 seconds remaining. They could have gotten a lay-up and fouled. Instead, they were still down 3. O’Quinn, who was an absolute beast and abused Steve Moore and Ricardo Ratliffe scoring 26 points with 14 rebounds, missed 1-of-2. Pressey hits a LONG 3 to pull the Tigers within one. O’Quinn makes 1-of-2 at the line again, but on the miss, the the ball is batted around and the result was a jump ball – giving Norfolk the ball back, and costing Missouri four seconds off the clock. O’Quinn missed both FT’s, allowing Missouri one final shot. Pressey got a decent look in the 2.9 seconds that were left, but the 3 clanked off the rim.

Then it sunk in. Missouri just lost. Stunned. Shocked. Disbelief. Incredible. All the words apply, but none fully describe it.

“We knew they were capable,” Senior 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.”

Before the game I said Missouri would have to have its worst shooting day of the season to lose. Boy was I wrong. When looking bad at it, Mizzou did not play all that bad. That is how GOOD Norfolk State (26-9) was. Credit to them. Sure, Missouri’s defense was not great, but when Missouri shoots 55% percent from the field, 46 percent from three and makes 13 three pointers, I just expect them to win. At least, I expect this team to win. Certainly they were not on their A-game, but when they play that well offensively, its a win.

Until Friday, when Mizzou became the first team ever to lose a tourney game after making at least 10 3’s, shooting at least 50% and committing fewer than 10 turnovers.

Later in the day another 2-seed fell to a 15 when Duke lost to Lehigh, 11 years to the day that the the last time a 15-seed won, when Hampton defeated Jamaal Tinsley and Iowa State, but it did not take the sting away.

Missouri had heard about their flaws – size, and lack of it – all season. But it rarely cost them – not many things bad happen is a 30-win season. The Tigers were prepared for it to happen today, and it did cost them, but it was not the difference maker. Sure, the 6-10 O’Quinn dominated the paint and the Tigers were outrebounded 37-25, but it was perimeter defense, or lack there of, that did Missouri in. The Spartans started a 6-6 point guard and 6-5 was the shortest starter. Missouri has just two starters taller than 6-5. Many of the jumpers were open looks. It gave them confidence early on, then in the second half everything was going in. There was a banked in 3, and a couple heavily contested, but they were able to tower over the Tiger defenders.

Many things went right for Norfolk State – making their first NCAA appearance. They literally played their best offensive game in their 15 years (according to offensive efficiency) in Division 1, Kim English played his worst game of the season – 1-for-7 from the field, including 0-5 from 3, for two points, Chris McEachin, who averages 3.4 points per game, scored 20 points and the Tigers still had a chance.

Mizzou went 30-5 because the Tigers could almost always win the shooting battle; and technically speaking, they did on Friday, too. But Norfolk State shot over 20 percent better than their season average from 3-point range. That garnered them 12 extra points … in a game they won by two.

The theme before the season began was that, when Mizzou lost, it was probably going to be because of depth, size and the lack thereof. And to be sure, Mizzou certainly struggled on the glass (three Texas games) and with depth (at Kansas). But we had been hinting for a while that Mizzou’s fatal flaw may not be either one of those things. Mizzou beat 22 “real” teams this year (I define “real” as major conference teams, solid mid-majors, anybody on the road, or anybody faced in the postseason) and lost to five. Here are some averages:

  • Expected Rebounds
    Wins: Mizzou -1.1
    Losses: Mizzou -1.8
  • Fouls
    Wins: Mizzou 13.8, Opponents 18.7
    Losses: Mizzou 19.6, Opponents 17.2
  • 2-Point Shooting
    Wins: Mizzou 57.7%, Opponents 45.9%
    Losses: Opponents 54.9%, Mizzou 48.5%
  • 3-Point Shooting
    Wins: Mizzou 41.2%, Opponents 37.1%
    Losses: Opponents 47.2%, Mizzou 33.9%
  • Points Per Possession
    Wins: Mizzou 1.23, Opponents 1.02
    Losses: Opponents 1.21, Mizzou 1.10

Mizzou actually stole the ball more times in wins (7.8 versus 7.3) and turned the ball over almost exactly the same amount (10.5 versus 10.4), but most of the time Missouri’s games versus real opponents were decided simply by shooting. There were certainly occasional rebounding glitches (the final minute versus NSU being the most obvious example), but Mizzou outrebounded Oklahoma State in Stillwater and basically split on the glass with Kansas (in Lawrence) and Kansas State (in Manhattan). The only losses with serious rebounding margins were at Kansas State (-7) and versus Norfolk State (-12). The most direct determining factor in whether Mizzou won or lost came with how opponents shot the ball.

  • Kansas State — Season 3-Point Shooting: 33.5% | Wins versus Missouri: 47.6% (10-for-21) | Difference: +14.1%
  • Oklahoma State — Season 3-Point Shooting: 33.3% | Win versus Missouri: 38.5% (5-for-13) | Difference: +5.2% (OSU’s percentage was skewed, obviously, by the three consecutive 3-pointers made by Le’Bryan Nash during the Cowboys’ key run)
  • Kansas — Season 3-Point Shooting: 35.7% | Win versus Missouri: 47.4% (9-for-19) | Difference: +11.7%
  • Norfolk State — Season 3-Point Shooting: 31.8% | Win versus Missouri: 52.6% (10-for-19) | Difference: +20.8%

Once again, great job by Norfolk State. Sometimes in the tourney a really good team runs into a team that has its best game ever. I don’t know if it makes me feel better that Norfolk State simply outplayed Missouri or if I would have felt better had Mizzou went out and just awful from the field and that is why the lost. Norfolk beat Mizzou at its own game, and not only was Mizzou’s perimeter defense poor, it allowed Norfolk State to walk the ball up the court and stay in a comfort zone. This was puzzling.

***

Pendarvis Williams added 20 points for Norfolk. Dixon led Missouri with 22, Pressey and Denmon finished with 20 points each. Pressey scored nine straight points at one point and also contributed eight assists.

Truly amazing that the trio combined to score 62 points on 19-for-33 shooting, a game in which Pressey and Dixon combined for 13 assists, two steals and five turnovers

“We tried. We fought. We fought for four years, and to lose, to lose in the first round, man. It just hurts.” English added.

It was English who was the target of criticism after the game – which is unfair. English did a yeoman’s job all season, playing out of position at the power forward spot and had his best year of his career. He rebounded from a miserable junior season and is an adopted “True Son.” He is a great person, a great ambassador and loves the University of Missouri. He went 1-7 – 0-5 from 3 – to end his career.

“I hurt for Kimmie. I really hurt for him,” head coach Frank Haith said. “The young man is a warrior. He didn’t have it all today. He just wasn’t himself. I really hurt for him.”

English and Denmon are Missouri’s second highest scoring teammates in school history.

Denmon, the two-time All-Big 12 First Team selection and a Second Team All-American, paced Mizzou in the first half, but scored just six points at the line in the second.

“The coaches did a great job getting us ready,” he 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,” Moore said. “They made shots. They played better.”

Dixon, Pressey and Bowers are the only returners next season on a team that will feature nine new players and three big-time transfers – a team that could be more talented than this year’s team and defenitely bigger and deeper. But it will be hard to EVER re-create the team chemistry this team had. ESPN’s Fran Franschilla calls it, “Once in a lifetime team chemistry”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Dixon 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.”

“How much fun we had and how together we were,” Dixon said when asked how he would remember the season.

“I don’t care,” English says. “We lost.”

And what about Frank Haith. Moronic fans of other school’s make comments referring to Haith walking in on a bunch of talent. Sure, that is true he did. I could have coached this team to a NCAA Tournament both. But Haith is the reason why Missouri went 30-5. He brought structure on (halfcourt defense, halfcourt offense) and off the court for a group of guys that had not had it under Mike Anderson. The program was in dissarray. Anderson snuck out the back door in the middle of the night, quit on his team before the season was over – and the players sensed it and quit on the season. Haith coached this same group that went 8-8 in conference play the year before and was lucky to win a road game (they won 1 in 2010-2011) to 30 wins and he did it with seven players, a shooting guard playing power forward and after losing arguably their most impactful player Laurence Bowers to an ACL injury before the season, and a team that had NO recruiting class thanks to Anderson not giving a shit. No walk in the park.

“We have had a tremendous year. There will only be one team to cut nets at the end of the day and we would have loved to have had a chance to continue through the tournament,” Haith said. “We have no reason to hang our heads. These guys have competed all year through adversity. We have seven scholarship players. These guys have listened to people tell them what they are not all year and they have defied all the odds. They are tournament champions, Big 12 champions, won 30 ballgames. I am proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of these young men’s lives.”

“We felt like we had a team to make a run to the Final Four,” Matt Pressey said. “Just a team that just didn’t give up. A team that gave it all it had. Even though we were down in numbers, losing Laurence and losing numbers, we continued to play. New coach, we continued to play. I just feel like our guys bought in this year and just gave it all they had.”

“You never know when your last game’s going to be. I didn’t expect to lose first game. Nobody does,” Moore said. “That’s just how it is sometimes. I mean, I left it all out on the court. Everybody played hard. We’ve had a great season and we did the best we could.”

“It’s gonna hurt for a while,” Moore added. “It sucks for any team. You make it to the Big Dance and you go out in the first round, it’s gonna suck for any team. It’s gonna hurt for a little while, but you can’t dwell. We’ve had a really great season. I’m proud of all our guys and we worked hard. Everybody worked hard day in and day out to have the kind of success we had. It’s gonna hurt for a while. But just like all sicknesses and death, you’ve got to move on.”

***

Ironically, Missouri also lost a 3-seed to 14-seeded Northern Iowa on this date – also a Friday – in 1991.

Missouri is the third team (4th time) to lose in the Round of 64 after entering tourney with 30+ wins (Utah State 2009, 2011; Belmont, 2011).

No matter what happens in Sunday’s game vs. Florida, Norfolk will never forget their first Tournament appearance. Missouri, on the other hand, wont ever forget this trip – no matter how hard they try to erase it.

“This (the loss) is what I’m always going to remember,” Dixon added. “Forever.”

***

Norfolk State Spartans
STARTERS MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Marcos Tamares, F 22 4-7 1-1 2-2 0 2 0 0 1 0 1 11
Kyle O’Quinn, C 37 10-16 1-2 5-9 5 14 2 1 2 5 3 26
Chris McEachin, G-F 33 7-14 4-8 2-2 1 2 1 0 0 1 3 20
Rodney McCauley, G-F 31 4-7 0-1 1-3 4 7 6 1 0 0 4 9
Pendarvis Williams, G 35 7-9 4-4 2-2 1 4 2 0 0 2 3 20
BENCH MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
A.J. Rogers, F 3 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Quasim Pugh, G 6 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0
Rob Johnson, F 13 0-3 0-2 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 0
Brandon Wheeless, G-F 9 0-1 0-1 0-0 1 2 0 0 0 1 1 0
Jamel Fuentes, G 11 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 3 2 0 0 0 2 0
TOTALS FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
32-59 10-19 12-18 14 35 14 2 3 11 20 86
54.2% 52.6% 66.7%
Missouri Tigers
STARTERS MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Ricardo Ratliffe, F 28 7-10 0-0 0-1 2 5 0 2 0 1 2 14
Marcus Denmon, G 38 5-12 4-11 6-7 0 2 1 1 0 1 0 20
Kim English, G 37 1-7 0-5 0-0 1 5 1 0 0 1 4 2
Phil Pressey, G 34 6-9 4-5 4-4 0 1 8 1 0 3 3 20
Matt Pressey, G 18 2-4 1-3 1-2 0 4 0 0 0 0 2 6
BENCH MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
Steve Moore, C 14 0-1 0-0 0-0 2 5 0 1 1 0 4 0
Michael Dixon, G 30 8-12 4-5 2-3 1 1 5 1 0 2 3 22
Andrew Jones, F 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
TOTALS FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
29-55 13-29 13-17 6 23 15 6 1 8 19 84
52.7% 44.8% 76.5%

LINKS

MUtigers.com: Mizzou Drops 86-84 NCAA Contest to Norfolk State

The Trib: Norfolk State stuns second-seeded Missouri
The Trib: Kyle O’Quinn has become Kansas’ favorite adopted son
The Trib: Season ends too soon for MU basketball fans
The Trib (Joe Walljasper): End of an amazing journey is just a wreck

This sport is all about March. Everything that leads up to now is the back story. The conference seasons are great, the conference tournaments are entertaining but the defining moments are what happen in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers didn’t have to win it all to validate themselves, didn’t even have to make it to the Final Four — although President Barack Obama forwarded them to New Orleans in his bracket — but they couldn’t do this.

Missouri isn’t Duke, where these opportunities roll around every year and the rafters are overflowing with championship banners. At Missouri, where legitimate chances to make that elusive first Final Four are once-in-a-decade occurrences, to bow out in the first game is an epic waste. […]

The Tigers will be judged as tournament flops based on expectations they inflated way beyond what was projected in the preseason. They spent four months proving that what they had (quickness, smarts) was more important than what they didn’t (size, depth). The senior class won more games than any other group in school history.

It was an amazing ride, but there is the matter of the crash.

The Missourian: Missouri stunned by Norfolk State
The Missourian: How Norfolk State upset Missouri in NCAA Tournament
The Missourian: Omaha crowd propels Norfolk State in Missouri’s loss
The Missourian: PHOTO GALLERY: Missouri shocked by Norfolk State

KC Star: Mizzou shocked by Norfolk State 86-84
KC Star: Tigers clawed back but couldn’t get ahead
KC Star: MU notebook | English struggles
KC Star: Norfolk State had a belief, and a plan
KC Star: Joy, pain, spill into streets of Omaha after upset
KC Star (Sam Mellinger): Historic upset brings highs, lows that will linger for years
KC Star: Missouri season in review
KC Star: Missouri loss shortchanges Big 12

Post-Dispatch: Norfolk State shocks Mizzou 86-84
Post-Dispatch: Mizzou hurt on boards in defeat
Post-Dispatch: Shock and dismay for Mizzou
Post-Dispatch: Norfolk State delirious after beating MU
Post-Dispatch (Bryan Burwell): Mizzou misery, Norfolk elation show it’s March

With his eyes bright red from tears he’d already shed, English sat in the far corner of the locker room on Friday night and answered every question fired at him. He broke down all the basketball. He sorted through all his emotions, too. But midway through the second wave of reporters to surround him, English leaned back and let out a groan that truly told you how hard this was all going down.

“Awwwwhhh,” he said, tilting his head back against the wall and closing his eyes for a split second of sheer agony. He bit down on his lip. He shook his head. You could almost imagine the flashes of his basketball life that were whirling around in his head at that moment.

“I bled, I sweat and I cried for these six letters on the front of my jersey,” he said. “I came here with aspirations of helping to take this basketball program from the dumps and trying to take it somewhere our fans couldn’t fathom. And we tried, we fought and we fought for four years.” […]

It came down to a buzzer beater that didn’t fall, and when Phil Pressey’s 3-pointer missed, it sent the arena into a frenzy, with all these Kansas and Florida fans celebrating too.

But it also left the Tigers slumped and in tears.

“I was thinking about how much hard work we put in,” said Pressey. “Six straight months of staying after late, doing the extra stuff, grinding just to win a national championship and it hurts to see that all the work we put in was useless because we lost.

PowerMizzou: Tigers shocked by Spartans
PowerMizzou: One and Done
PowerMizzou: PHOTOS: The Baseline View
PowerMizzou: PMTV-HD: Omaha Nightmare

Fox Sports MW: No. 2 seed Missouri stunned by No. 15 Norfolk St
Fox Sports MW: Memorable season cut short for Missouri

KBIA Sports Extra: Mizzou’s storybook season comes to a shocking end in NCAA Tournament

ESPN.com: Rapid Reaction: Norfolk St. 86, Missouri 84
ESPN.com: Norfolk State’s win a statistical shocker

The Dagger: Shock: No. 15 Norfolk State upsets No. 2 Missouri

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