Mike Anderson and his 17th-ranked Missouri Tigers took one small step in the rankings, but their program took one giant leap Monday, edging out arch rival and sixteenth-ranked Kansas 62-60 in a packed Mizzou Arena.
The night started out slow for the Tigers, extremely slow. The last time Missouri had the chance to win as a ranked team, snap a losing streak to a border rival, and send a message to the college basketball world on national television, they choked.
The Tigers were held to a remarkably low 18 points in the first half of their loss to Illinois earlier this year, and Monday's game got off to a strikingly similar start. Missouri was held to an abysmal 16 points in the first half, shooting just 27-percent from the field, and 10-percent from beyond the arc. The Jayhawks led 30-16 going into intermission.
So, what was the difference between the Illinois game and the Kansas game?
"We just said, 'We're not going to lose in our house.' " said senior forward Demarre Carroll. "We went in (at halftime). Coach just looked at us, and he kind of laughed like, 'Y'all are at home. Calm down. We know ya'll have the jitters in you. Calm down.' Everybody looked at each other and started laughing. We just hopped up and said, 'Let's go out and get it."
The Tigers did indeed come out hot in the second half, putting together a 10-4 run that cut the lead to eight. Kansas responded with a 5-0 run of their own, pushing their advantage back out to 13. The Tigers and Jayhawks traded runs throughout the second half, but Missouri's proved to be bigger and longer.
The Tigers made their final comeback surge down 10 with just under eight minutes to play. Missouri would outscore Kansas 18-6 the rest of the way, and once again wear out an opponent in the waning minutes.
"Fatigue was a big factor in this game." Said Anderson. "You're not going to see Sherron Collins go to the free-throw line and miss two free throws. I guess we can attribute that to our fans, too."
Junior guard J.T. Tiller agreed with his coach, but made a more graphic analogy. "When we seem them bleed, we like to put our foot on their neck." Tiller said.
Tiller came up huge in Monday's win, holding star point guard Sherron Collins to just nine points while forcing him into six turnovers. Tiller is starting to make a habit of making the Big 12's best guards look pedestrian. Though he finished with just three points, Tiller made them count, sinking a clutch jumper on Mizzou's second-to-last possession.
Another man who made his buckets count was Zaire Taylor, sinking his second game-winning shot in three games. Taylor drove the dagger into the Jayhawks' heart when he nailed a mid-range shot, putting the Tigers up for good with just 1.3 seconds remaining. Kansas center Cole Aldrich caught the inbounds pass and threw up an unsuccessful desperation shot as time ran out, making the final score 62-60 in favor of the Tigers.
Monday's win signaled major strides taken on many fronts for Anderson and Mizzou, not the smallest of which being Anderson's first victory over the Jayhawks. At 21-4 and 8-2 in Big 12 play, Anderson is having his best season yet, and Monday's win was the biggest of his tenure in Columbia.
The Tigers also snapped a 5-game losing streak to their bitter rival, while extending their home court winning-streak to 16. Missouri is now second in the conference standings, and in the hunt for a Big 12 championship, something they haven't won since the formation of the conference.
-Missouri pressured Kansas into committing a season-high 27 turnovers, the third most they've give up since the 88'-89' season.
-Kansas' Cole Aldrich was a monster on the glass, ripping down 15 boards. However, Missouri held the big man in check on the offensive end, limiting him to just eight points.
-The Tigers are now 6-2 against the RPI top 51 teams, and 3-0 against ranked opponents.
-The Tigers overcame a season-low shooting percentages of 35.6 from the field and 14.3 from beyond the arc, as well as a 20-rebound disadvantage in Monday's victory.