Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 3/16/12
OMAHA, Neb. Long numb from the shock, Kim English slouched in Missouri's locker room after the biggest disappointment in program history and struggled to speak. He untied his shoelaces, but his mind raced elsewhere. The vocal Missouri senior guard shook his head slightly and continued to dress, a memorable season for the second-seeded Tigers cut short after the most surprising upset in recent memory. With time, English managed a few nervous words as teammates packed in silence around him. Perhaps one day, he will remember the Tigers' 30 victories. Perhaps one day, he will remember the Big 12 tournament championship game victory over Baylor. Perhaps one day, he will remember how Missouri became a popular and believable pick to advance through the West Region and reach the first Final Four in school history. Yes, perhaps one day the pain from an 86-84 loss to fifteenth-seeded Norfolk State in the second round at the CenturyLink Center will be forgotten, and English will remember all the good that came from this winter. And there was plenty. But that day will be another time, perhaps a long while, because the sight of a mob of Norfolk State players celebrating at mid-court after time expired will be difficult for anyone wearing black and gold to forget. Less than an hour after that scene, before burying his face in his palms, English looked up from his shoelaces toward no one in particular. In the end, there wasn't much more he could say. "Damn," said English, who finished with a season-low two points. "Norfolk State." To think, the little-known MEAC school had never appeared in the NCAA tournament before Friday. Now it will be placed alongside former UCLA guard Tyus Edney's game-clinching drive in the 1995 NCAA tournament, the fifth-down loss to Colorado in 1990 and the kicked-ball heartbreaker to Nebraska in 1997 as the latest crushing moment for Missouri fans who are haunted by their fair share of skeletons. Norfolk State, meet your place in infamy. "People are going to have their own perspective of us individually and us as a team," Missouri senior center Steve Moore said. "We've had a successful year. We had a lot of success this year. It hurts really bad. But this is a good team. We had a great year, a lot of success. It just sucks to go out like this." But the Tigers' exit was no accident. The Spartans played with a perfect balance of strength and finesse. Senior center Kyle O'Quinn was a force against his undersized opposition, scoring a game-high 26 points and collecting 14 rebounds. And sophomore guard Pendarvis Williams and senior guard Chris McEachin combined to sink eight 3-pointers on 12 attempts. The Spartans were a more disciplined version of Kansas State. They had similar size but more heart than Baylor. They played with no fear. Meanwhile, Missouri struggled to match that spark. Underdogs thrive when given the chance to believe, and the Tigers failed to match the Spartans' fire, up until the point when sophomore guard Phil Pressey collapsed on the sideline with his face stuffed in his white jersey after his final 3-point attempt bounced off the rim. The hurt was real. And a Cinderella was born. "I'm overjoyed right now," Kisha Evans, wife of Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans, told FOXSports.com after hugging her husband near the court. "I mean, this is a dream come true for us." Norfolk State's dream was Missouri's nightmare. As a result, the legacy of the Tigers' season should be questioned. A deep NCAA tournament run would have secured this squad's place as the best in program history. It would have erased the memory of the cowardly way former coach Mike Anderson left for Arkansas last spring. And it would have vindicated coach Frank Haith, who was met with intense criticism from a skeptical fan base upon his arrival from Miami. But a collapse before reaching the Round of 32 not only takes away those possibilities, but it also eliminates the shine from what the Tigers achieved this season. Yes, there were plenty of highlights over the past five months, but the hollow end will be recalled longer than them all. After all, reputations are crafted in the NCAA tournament. Stars are born in these wild and wonderful weeks players who will live on in highlight reels for years to come. Yet, Missouri was introduced to March Madness' unforgiving side. A 30-win season? A Big 12 tournament championship? All fine in their own right. But this team will be known as the one that became the fifth No. 2 seed in 110 games to lose to a No. 15. It will be known as the one that embraced the Final Four-potential label but stumbled in the first step toward the goal. Above all, it will be known as the one that suffered a swift, stunning exit less than a week after some considered them to be one of the nation's elite. "We have had a tremendous year," Haith said. "There will only be one team to cut nets at the end of the day, and we would have loved to have had a chance to continue through the tournament. But as I told the team, we have no reason to hang our heads. These guys have competed all year through adversity." Only this time, Haith's team does not have another chance to compete through hardship. A postseason that began with so much promise ended with English and others in Missouri's locker room struggling to make sense of what happened. Perhaps one day, the Tigers will embrace the good that came from this potentially historic season. But until then, their pain will sting.
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