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Joy, pain, spill into streets of Omaha after upset

By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star

The father is singing James Brown, dancing and spinning in a delirious state of joy. He came here from the Jamaican section of Queens, N.Y., more than 1,200 miles away, and now he is standing on a crowded sidewalk outside the CenturyLink Center.

“I feeeeel good,” he sings, “I knew that I would, now …”

It’s nearly 30 minutes after the final buzzer, a half-hour after 15th-seeded Norfolk State shook up the college basketball world with an 86-84 victory over No. 2 seed Missouri. Tommie O’Quinn is wearing a green-and-gold letter jacket with the family name stitched on the back.

“I feel good … like I knew that I would, now,” he bellows. “So good … so good! Bum-bum-bum-buh!”

For most of the past two hours, he stood in the stands at the CenturyLink Center and watched his son, Norfolk State senior center Kyle O’Quinn, become a star. The younger O’Quinn scored 26 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and forced a crucial jump ball against Missouri’s Ricardo Ratliffe, saving a precious possession in the final moments.

“By far,” Tommie O’Quinn says. “It’s the most exciting game that he’s ever played.”

As the elder O’Quinn speaks, the aftermath of an NCAA Tournament stunner unfolds around him. A Missouri fan holds two tickets in the air at the corner of 10th and Cass, hopeful that somebody would take them off his hands. Kansas fans strut past, heading for the entrance, the Jayhawks’ own tournament opener just a few hours away. On the hotel patio across the street, two Missouri fans take heat from a man in a blue T-shirt.

“Nobody’s choked like this since Iowa State,” a 20-something fan says, referencing Iowa State’s loss to Hampton as a No. 2 seed in 2001.

Missouri fans had come to Omaha to watch their team begin a journey, a ride that would hopefully end with the Tigers cutting down the nets next week in Phoenix and advancing to their first Final Four in school history. Now it was over in an instant.

In the final minutes, the chant of “N-S-U, N-S-U” reverberated through the arena. All those fans from Florida and Kansas and other faraway places were now cheering for Norfolk State.

“I tell you,” Spartans athletic director Marty Miller said. “I was surprised. It seemed as though the fans at the other programs backed us. They were sitting in our corner.”

All the Spartans had heard the cheers, too. And for senior guard Rodney McCauley, who finished with nine points, it wasn’t that surprising. Before Friday’s game, McCauley said, the team had been approached by a few KU fans staying at the same hotel.

“They really wanted us to beat Missouri,” McCauley says. “They gave us tips, gave us pointers.”

Not that the Spartans necessarily needed them. In the locker room after the game, Norfolk State’s keys to the game were still written on a small white board in the corner.

The first three: 1. Transition defense; 2. Offensive rebounding; 3. Wear them down.

Here, too, were scenes from a stunner. The players chanted about shocking the world, and standing up for Norfolk, and about a certain U.S. president who picked Missouri in his bracket.

“You know what’s funny?” McCauley said. “We all said we was gonna prove him wrong. And we really expect a call. We really expect it. We would love that.”

Back outside, just a few minutes later, Tommie O’Quinn was finishing up his dance. Another son — Kyle’s older brother, Carroll, 34 — was by his side. And together, father and son would disappear down the sidewalk into a mass of basketball fans — some heartbroken, some still hopeful.

“We,” Carroll O’Quinn says, “slayed a Tiger tonight.”

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.

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