For 35 minutes, the game had all the intensity of last year's matchup. The stakes were similar: A talented, but somewhat underachieving Missouri team met an Oklahoma State squad considered one of the best in the country. Missouri pulled out a win in double overtime last season in Columbia, but it did not end the same this time around.
Missouri gave No. 6 Oklahoma State fits until the closing minutes, when the Cowboys cruised past a tired Tiger bunch to grab a 78-68 win on Tuesday night at Gallagher-Iba Arena. A dominating offensive effort from sophomore forward Linas Kleiza yielded 24 points and six rebounds but was not enough to push the Tigers to a win.
Not that they did not have the opportunity. Missouri (9-6, 1-1 Big 12) was within two at 63-61 before the Cowboys used a 15-7 run to close the game. Terrence Crawford and Stephen Graham sparked the rally, scoring all of the points in a quick 10-2 Cowboy run. Graham took over after twin brother Joey Graham sparked the Cowboy offense for most of the game; Stephen scored nine of the Cowboys' final 11 points and finished with 11 after going scoreless in the first half.
After faltering for much of the second half, the Cowboys (12-1, 2-0) found late success from the field to take the win. Graham became an interior force late, scoring two layups and five points from the free-throw line in the final minutes. The Tigers, reliant on their outside shot for much of the contest, could not get enough of them to fall late to stay with the Cowboys, who had too many offensive weapons for the Tigers to handle.
Play was physical in the opening minutes of the second half, slowing down the game and picking up the scoring. The Tigers capped a quick 8-2 run with a 3-pointer by freshman point guard Jason Horton, giving Missouri a slim 46-45 lead with 13:03 left. The teams traded the lead for the next several minutes, with the Tigers taking a 52-51 lead at the halfway point.
The Tigers used aggressive defense and a motivated Kleiza to keep the game close in the first half. The Cowboys led by as many as 10 points, using a 12-2 run capped by two technical free throws by John Lucas to take a 17-7 lead. Kleiza earned the technical after getting tangled up with a Cowboy under the Tigers' offensive glass as play went down the court.
Kleiza seemed to use that call -- and a little razzing from the Gallagher-Iba crowd -- to control play and finish with 14 at the break. Kleiza scored 12 of Missouri's 14 points at one stretch, converting from the perimeter, the inside and the free-throw line. Kleiza twice was fouled on outside jump shots, converting all five of those free throws.
Two more from the charity stripe by junior guard Jimmy McKinney capped a 9-0 run to tie the game at 28.
Kleiza picked up his second foul at 2:31 and sat the rest of the half, but the Tigers stayed in it, with the help of the 3-point shot. A 3-pointer by sophomore guard Thomas Gardner in the final minute gave Oklahoma State a 36-34 halftime edge.
Missouri held Oklahoma State without a field goal for a stretch of more than five minutes late in the half, allowing the Tigers to get back into the game.
Graham was just as dominant as Kleiza was in the first half, scoring 14 points, including the Cowboys' final eight points of the half.
The win was the 767th of Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton's career, tying him for seventh in NCAA Division I history with Cowboy legend Henry Iba. Sutton will attempt to pass his mentor when the Cowboys host Iowa State on Saturday.
Mike's musings: A win would have been gigantic for the Tigers, but this kind of effort works almost just as well. After giving No. 1 Illinois all it wanted last month, Missouri again fought a good team tooth and nail away from home. It would have been understandable for the Tigers to get blown out of the gym, but it didn't happen. … The more I see of freshman forward Kalen Grimes, the more I like. He has the best skill set around the basket of all of the Tigers, including Kleiza. He was a major player as the Tigers fought back and forth with Cowboys in the second half and should see his playing time increase as league play continues.
Horton fared well in his first road game, limiting the Cowboys' production from the perimeter for most of the contest. McKinney also had a strong evening; he and Horton are shaping up to be a solid combination at the point. Prediction review: I looked for a 72-60 Oklahoma State win, so I wasn't too far off the mark. Oklahoma State did a lot of its damage from the free-throw line, exposing the strength of the Tiger defense. It was the first time in weeks that Missouri had allowed more than 70 points, but it came in a solid effort. Still, if the Tigers stumble in Manhattan on Saturday night, the effort of this game would be all for naught.