Kyle O'Quinn sees no reason to stop winning now.
O'Quinn, Norfolk State's 6-foot-10 center who earned regular-season player of the year honors after averaging nearly 16 points and 10.5 rebounds, added another trophy to his case on Saturday, pocketing Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament MVP honors after his 18 points led the Spartans to a 73-70 championship victory against Bethune-Cookman.
O'Quinn wouldn't mind adding another memorable moment – such as an NCAA tournament victory – to his remarkable season.
"We're going in there with the confidence that we can win it all, not just going in there as, 'Oh, we won the MEAC and now let's just experience it,' " said O'Quinn, who had 10 second-half points as the second-seeded Spartans (25-9) held off the fourth-seeded Wildcats (18-17) for their first-ever MEAC tournament title. "We've got to go in there with that focus. We're in it. We might as well try to win it."
O'Quinn and his teammates don't have to look far for mid-major inspiration. VCU's Final Four run last season left a lasting impression on other little guys who make the Big Dance.
"When you see the path set before you, you always think that you can walk the same path," O'Quinn said. "Going in there as the underdog, you also have a lot of people pulling for you. They might not be your fans, but they always pull for the underdog. Seeing (the Rams) do it, it makes it not impossible, so hopefully we get a run like that, too."
To assure themselves of that chance, the Spartans, who built a 13-point halftime lead and led by as many as 14 with 7:30 to play, had to hold off a Wildcat run in the final five minutes. Bethune-Cookman twice got within six and pulled within 65-50 on a 3-pointer from Kevin Dukes, who matched O'Quinn's 18 points, with 1:54 left.
Jamel Fuentes answered with a driving layup, but missed a free throw after getting fouled on the play. O'Quinn was there, though, for one of his seven rebounds, and he sank two free throws after getting fouled to push the Spartans' lead back to nine.
NSU still had the Wildcats' biggest bullet left to dodge. Down five after Rodney McCauley's free throw with 26 seconds left, Bethune-Cookman got a tip-in from senior forward Garrius Holloman, who had 12 points, to get within three with 18 seconds to go.
"We were letting them drive to the basket," NSU coach Anthony Evans said. "We weren't cutting them off. We were letting them go into the lane, and it was creating havoc."
Then, after O'Quinn was tied up and called for a travel, the Wildcats got one last, good look from Holloman, whose last-second 3-point try was slightly off-target.
"I just wanted to knock it down for my team." Holloman said. "Towards the end, I knew it wasn't going in. When it left my hand, it felt like it had a good rotation on it."
The victory leaves the Spartans, who beat Drexel and TCU earlier this season and have an RPI of 133, waiting to learn their first-round NCAA destination in Sunday's selection show.
NSU sophomore guard Pendarvis Williams added 17 points and nine rebounds, while junior forward Rob Johnson had 15 points off the bench.
" This is what we wanted to do from the start of the season," Johnson said. "This is what our goal was from the beginning. To be out there and be able to help achieve that goal – I can't explain the feeling. It still doesn't feel real. All the work paid off."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times