NCAA NOTEBOOK: Norfolk State living the dream, Gators preparing for a strong challenge
OMAHA, Neb. – Kyle O’Quinn is living the dream.
The Norfolk State senior center has become a media darling in the 24 hours since the Spartans upset Missouri in the NCAA Tournament second round. His 26 point, 14 rebound effort made his the center of sports highlight shows and by dinner time Friday night he had already picked up 2,100 Twitter followers.
“It’s a great day to be a Spartan,’’ O’Quinn said Saturday afternoon. “A win has never brought so much joy to a program, a student body, our families.’’
O’Quinn is expected to be a huge part of the Spartans’ effort to upset No. 7 seed Florida when the two meet today. He said he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“A lot of people don’t get the chance (to be in this position),’’ O’Quinn said. “I think we have worked hard to be in this position, but at the same time we’re going to go in as if we want to go out on top like we did last night.’’
And if you’re wondering what was the most interesting Tweet?
“The Jay Bilas Tweet,’’ O’Quinn said. “I saved it, I favorited it. It was something like Kyle O’Quinn, dominating player, something like that. It was great. It was from Jay Bilas. I loved it.’’
NO LOVE FOR MISSOURI: Since he arrived in Omaha, Florida freshman buard Bradley Beal had been inundated about the possibility of playing Missouri in the NCAA third round. Beal is a native of St. Louis. He repeatedly declined to talk about the potential matchup, saying the games hadn’t been played yet. On Saturday, he was asked again – this time if he was disappointed he wouldn’t get to play the Tigers.
“I was indifferent,’’ Beal said about playing Missouri. “I didn’t care if they won or they didn’t win. They should have – if you look at it on the board you would think Missouri won, but they got outplayed (Friday) and they didn’t come ready to play, Norfolk State did, and they ended up winning. If they would have won, it didn’t make a difference to me.’’
NOT EXACTLY FANS: The Florida players watched the Norfolk State-Missouri game on Friday, and while none would admit to pulling for the underdog, several said they thought it was a great college basketball game.
“I watched all of it,’’ senior guard Erving Walker said. “I thought it was a phenomenal game. I had no idea (how it would end) because Norfolk was playing with a lot of confidence. They looked like they belonged and they clearly showed that they belonged and that they’re a good team and they showed it.’’
Junior guard Kenny Boynton said he found himself getting caught up in the game.
“To be honest with you, that was one of the best games I’ve watched in awhile,’’ he said. “I was kind of into that game. I think both teams did a great job down the stretch. They made big shots, they made big plays, they got big rebounds and converted. The defensive rebounding, I think that’s what was the difference in the game.’’
Now the Gators are preparing to face the Spartans with the clear understanding that the majority of fans in the CenturyLink Center in Omaha will be pulling for NSU. “Coach explained that to us, he said since Norfolk State won, everybody is going to be cheering against you because they're the lower seed and they're the Cinderella team so they're going to try to do their best to win and everybody else in the gym is going to be rooting against and you,’’ Beal said. ”He said we will have to play through it and fight through it and I think we will be ready for (today).’’
TOUGH ROAD: Anthony Evans is in his fifth year as Norfolk State University’s men’s basketball coach, but his journey to this point began years ago as a volunteer assistant at Orange County Community College. Evans, who said he has made “great sacrifices along the way’’ worked at a convenience store called the 84
Quick Stop during his volunteer tenure.
“I would walk to work, I didn't have a car,’’ he said. “So I would spend probably seven hours in a convenience store till close. I was the person that closed and repeat the process the next day.’’
The worst part of the job?
“Cleaning the bathroom,’’ Evans said. “That was terrible, but it was something that you had to do. Bathroom had to be cleaned, it was cleaned.’’
Ironically, one of his former co-workers was among the numerous e-mails he’s received since his squad defeated Missourit.
“The person that I worked for e mailed me last night and it was funny because he said ‘I taught you everything you knew about working in a convenience store.’ I thought that was funny. Kevin Hannon, great guy. He helped me get my first car, he was great person.’’
STILL WAITING: The Norfolk State basketball players on Friday were a little miffed that President Barack Obama didn’t think twice about picking Missouri over the Spartans in his NCAA Tournament bracket. They said they were hoping to get a call from the President following their history-making win over Missouri. So far? Nothing.
“Our teammates took a shot at President Obama because he had Mizzou in his Final four and didn’t think we were going to win, like a lot of people didn’t. People thought we were going to lose by at least 20, so I shocked them we got the win. But I don’t think he (Obama) has responded yet.’’
WHAT BREAK?: The Gators are a little miffed at the notion they caught a “break” by facing No. 15 Norfolk State instead of No. 2 seed Missouri.
“I mean, I honestly don’t think it’s a break,’’ Boynton said. “I think they play hard, their guards are about 6-6, 6-7 and they are a big team. They lost by two to Marquette, they beat Missouri. I think they are a good team and we respect them fully. We’ve just got to go out there and play as a team. If we get the rebounds and get the loose balls, we’ll have a great shot at winning.’’
Added Florida coach Billy Donovan: “I never heard that. We’re playing against a good team, that's all I know.’’
ANY EXCUSE: The Norfolk State campus held a watch party for Friday’s game, and the ensuing celebration following the upset victory has gone viral. But the players said they aren’t sure how much of that had to do with the victory. “I saw that, it looked crazy,’’ guard Chris McEachin said. “At Norfolk State, they are always looking for any excuse to celebrate something. They were just trying to have a party.’’
Antonya English, Times staff writer