OMAHA, Neb. — Everything fell into place for Norfolk State.
After Norfolk State beat Bethune-Cookman to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship, they got a 15 seed and a perfect draw in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans spent last week preparing for Missouri, a team they matched up with well.
Norfolk State's starters were taller than Missouri's at every position, and they were athletic enough to avoid being run off the court by the Tigers' speed. The Spartans starting lineup also matched the Tigers' starters in experience — both teams started four seniors and one sophomore.
Unlike Missouri, which had several nationally televised games during the season, people didn't already realize the talent that coach Anthony Evans had at Norfolk State.
"That's the beauty of it. They don't know anything about us," Spartans guard Pendarvis Williams said. "We came out hard and got the win."
The Spartans gained experience against good competition early in the season by playing Marquette twice, Drexel and Virginia Tech in their out-of-conference schedule.
"I think this team has an inner confidence that they feel they can play with anybody, and they showed that today," Evans said after the Spartans 86-84 win.
Evans and his team were also used to playing against the four-guard offense that Missouri uses because some MEAC teams play a similar system.
"I'm sure they didn't prepare for us the way we prepared for them," Norfolk State center Kyle O'Quinn said. "I mean, we did countless plays. We probably knew their whole playbook."
He compared his team's preparation to studying for a test.
"You study for a test, repetitive, repetitive, you go into the test, you (take) it, get an A," he said.
O'Quinn certainly had an A-plus performance. He scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, manhandling Missouri forwards Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore in the low post. At times, O'Quinn seemed to be able to score at will. On one play in the first half, he proved his versatility by stepping out behind the arc and drilling a 3-pointer.
O'Quinn's 3-pointer was one of 10 the Spartans made in Friday's game. Four came from Williams, who did not miss a long-range shot.
Missouri stayed even with the Spartans, making 13 3-pointers of its own. In the game that had 14 ties and 22 lead changes, the Tigers lost out on hustle plays for loose balls, and were outrebounded by 12.
"You've got to finish defense with rebounds," Missouri senior Marcus Denmon said.
Norfolk State had 14 offense rebounds and became only the third team this season to score more than 85 points against the Tigers.
"This wasn't a game decided by X's and O's. It was us going out there and working them," Missouri sophomore Phil Pressey said.
The Tigers offense didn't play too poorly, managing 84 points.
As Denmon headed toward the exit of the CenturyLink Center after the game, he was stopped by Evans near the Norfolk State locker room.
"Hey, great game," Evans said. Denmon nodded his head, said thanks and walked off.
His season, which included a Big 12 Tournament championship and a school-record 27 regular season wins, was over.
"We have no reason to hang our heads," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "These guys have competed all year through adversity. These guys have listened to people tell them what they're not all year, and they've defied all odds."
After defying the odds themselves, the Spartans will continue their season Sunday against 7 seed Florida. Pressey said he won't be watching.
“I’m not going to be able to watch TV, so I’ll probably be in the gym,” Pressey said.