• Box Score: Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84
• Photo Showcase: Norfolk St. vs. Missouri
• Story: O'Quinn steps into spotlight for tourney's new Cinderella
• Notes: Spartans gain fans with upset
• Story: Omaha fans embrace Spartans
• Chatelain: Hungry 15 seed gives Omaha taste of madness
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The clock said 34.9 seconds. An eternity in college basketball.
The score read 83-81. No time for celebration.
Yet Norfolk State point guard Pendarvis Williams, alone at midcourt during a free throw, couldn't stand still.
His team, a three-touchdown underdog with an all-time NCAA tournament record of 0-0, had won over an Omaha crowd that — until Friday afternoon — had never seen Norfolk State play. Chants of "NSU!" poured down from the CenturyLink rafters, exhorting the Spartans to complete the biggest NCAA tournament upset in 11 years.
Williams looked up in the stands. He tried not to smile.
March Madness is about buzzer-beaters and underdogs. But at the end of the day, it's about making a name for yourself.
A week ago, Missouri didn't know anything about his team, Williams said.
It does now.
The Spartans ripped out the hearts of Missouri fans, captured the hearts of Kansas and Florida fans and delivered March madness to a town that hadn't tasted it in 35 years.
Oh, sure. Omaha hosted first- and second-round games in 2008. But six games gave us nothing to talk about. Nothing within 12 points.
The first game Friday was more of the same; Florida blew out Virginia. What did Omaha have to do to catch the fever?
The answer: Invite a school with an athletic budget of $12 million (compared with Missouri's $59 million).
Invite a band and cheerleaders that treat every song like it's their last.
Invite a 15 seed that shows no sign of fear.
"No one gave us a chance," Norfolk State Athletic Director Marty Miller said.
In November, Norfolk State lost at home to Elizabeth City State, a Division II school. The crowd that night: 1,182.
So imagine the Spartans' surprise Friday afternoon when, midway through the second half, everyone who wasn't wearing black and gold started chanting "NSU! NSU!"
"I don't know who they were," guard Rodney McCauley said. "I know we didn't come with many. ... Whoever wants to root for us, c'mon, jump on the bandwagon. We'll take it."
In the locker room before the game, Spartans coach Anthony Evans had written the keys to victory:
Wear them down
Limit Denmon and English
Pick and roll defense
But the most important component was intangible.
"Honestly, everybody in this locker room thought we were going to win this game," guard Jamel Fuentes said.
The Tigers' game is driving and kicking out for jump shots. In the first 10 minutes, they attempted 12 3-pointers. They were 7 of 16 at halftime, yet the game was tied. The reason: Mizzou couldn't defend.
Norfolk State had a height advantage against Missouri at almost every position. When the Spartans weren't bullying Mizzou in the paint, they were draining jumpers. Missouri usually answered with a 3 of its own.
This wasn't just close basketball — it was quality basketball.
At the 10-minute mark, Missouri coach Frank Haith took off his sport coat. Time to get serious. Except the Tigers couldn't just flip a switch. This was no fluke.
As fans from Florida and Kansas and Nebraska inched to the edge of their seats, Mizzou fans were having flashbacks. Twenty-two years ago Friday, the third-seeded Tigers lost to Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Didn't help having KU fans in such close proximity. In the final seconds, a Mizzou fan lunged at a Jayhawker across the aisle and threw a punch.
The Border War lives on, even as Mizzou prepares to bolt for the SEC.
Norfolk State knows nothing about that. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, made up of historically black universities, is known more for its bands than its basketball.
But when Phil Pressey's 3-pointer bounced off the iron at the buzzer, Norfolk State knew NCAA tournament glory. Williams called it a dream.
"A lot of people had Missouri in their Final Four," Williams said.
A lot of those people were in the CenturyLink Center when the Spartans left the locker room and came back into the arena to watch a few minutes of the next game. Who cares about bracket pools? The fans gave Norfolk State a standing ovation.
The Spartans watched a few minutes of St. Mary's-Purdue, then shuffled down a quiet concourse toward their bus.
The weight of their accomplishment didn't hit home until they checked their cellphones.
"Look at my Twitter!" one said.
"We're on ESPN.com!" said another.
At the back of the pack was the Spartans' point guard, a sophomore from Philadelphia. Coming out of high school, Williams was the fallback option for a lot of schools. But big schools wouldn't give him a scholarship. Certainly not a school like Missouri.
Williams walked to the bus wearing the same grin he wore at midcourt, before 34.9 seconds changed everything.
"Pinch me," he said. "Pinch me."
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