It’s impossible for sports fans to think of the month of March without thinking about one thing — college basketball madness. Of course I’m talking about the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament and the hype that surrounds each game.
The most thrilling tournament in all of sports got under way March 13, with 68 teams playing a single-elimination tournament to decide the sport’s top team in the nation. It’s not just the passion and effort the players put forth that makes the tournament fun to watch — it’s the unpredictability that each game offers.
Butler University reached the national title game for the second year in a row to face high-powered Duke University, and Virginia Commonwealth University reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed in last year’s tournament.
There is no way I thought the opening weekend of this year’s tournament could top those two surprises, but boy, was I wrong. College basketball fans across the nation were treated to two of the greatest upsets in modern college basketball history when Lehigh University beat Duke and No. 15 Norfolk State University beat the No. 2 University of Missouri Tigers on Friday. I was fortunate enough to work at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City as a replay logger for the first two rounds of the tournament and, by luck of the draw, was assigned to watch the Norfolk State-Missouri game.
Like most people, I expected Missouri to easily win the game. Only four times in history had a No. 15 seed defeated a second place squad. Something felt
different about this game right from the get-go, however.
As often happens in a game with this type of competitive parity, the lower-seeded team comes out hot and keeps the contest close in the first half, and the higher seeded team pulls away in the second half. But Norfolk State stayed right with the Missouri Tigers in what was the most well-played game of the tournament so far.
With access to a constant feed of the game that included a locker room camera, I was treated to Norfolk State Head Coach Anthony Evans’ halftime speech. Surrounded by his players, Evans assured his players, with a stoicism and confidence saved for army generals, that if they played hard and believed in each other, they would win the game. Evans’ words were chilling and inspiring, and I had no doubt Norfolk would come out on top.
Still holding the lead with fewer than 10 seconds remaining, Norfolk State forced a jump ball off a missed free throw to retain possession and seal the improbable, but well-earned victory.