OMAHA, Neb. – It started out like one would expect a neutral site game to begin, with polite applause for each team’s starters and calm cheers from each team’s fans.
But as the second-round NCAA Tournament game between second-seeded Missouri and No. 15-seed Norfolk State wore on and the score remained close, the crowd’s animosity toward Missouri rose until Norfolk State eventually defeated Missouri 86-84, ending the Tigers’ season.
With eight minutes left in the second half, sophomore guard Phil Pressey stepped to the free throw line. People in the crowd booed loudly, whether they were sporting Norfolk State’s green or the colors of any other school, it seemed.
“You let a smaller school, a team that’s not as good as us hang around, and once it comes down to it - the last five minutes, four minutes - they see they’re still in the game. They’re like, ‘Well, we have a chance to win it,’” Pressey said. “And I feel like we just gave them the confidence, and they played.”
After a 38-38 first half, the Missouri players returned to the court with the stone look of determination they wore all season. In the huddle before the start of the second half, junior guard Michael Dixon bobbed up and down in one of the players' only showings of emotion.
Five minutes in, Haith urged his team on from the bench, “Come on! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
When senior forward Kim English was called for a foul on Norfolk State’s Chris McEachin, Haith yelled, "He didn’t touch him,” and put his hands at his sides, palms up in disbelief.
Dixon later sent a pass flying out of bounds, and Haith turned away, his brow furrowed, contorting his face into a pained expression.
Missouri assistant coach Isaac Chew motioned wildly and barked instructions cross-court from the bench while the Tigers were on defense, but Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn sent in a jumper, and Chew dropped his hands to his sides.
Haith stomped his foot on the floor in frustration after Norfolk State’s Marcos Tamares sent in a 3-pointer. The chants of "M-I-Z" were met with a much louder "N-S-U."
While Missouri had the ball, the crowd bellowed “Defense! Defense!” As seconds ticked off the clock, the N-S-U chant reemerged. Phil Pressey’s 3-point shot attempt at the buzzer would have won the game but bounced off the back of the rim.
With his sights set on a national championship, Pressey said he was unable to explain how bad the loss feels.
Dixon threw his arm around Pressey as the two walked slowly to the arena’s exit. Pressey stopped for a moment and pulled the neck of his jersey up to cover his face.
English shook his head slowly as he walked through the line to high-five his opponents.
“I feel really hurt for Kimmie,” Haith said, pausing and trying to contain his emotion. “Really hurt for him. Young man’s a warrior, and he didn’t have it all today. He just wasn’t himself, but I really hurt for him.
“I’m very disappointed, as everybody in that locker room was,” Haith said of the team’s season-ending loss. “I hurt for those seniors because they put so much into this.”