COLUMBIA — Missouri didn’t have to win this game.
The fans will forgive the Tigers for losing a game without five players, three of them starters, one the leading scorer.
The players on the court just had to show they cared.There were 8,660 fans at Mizzou Arena on Wednesday to see the Tigers play Nebraska. When the final buzzer sounded, those fans were still there clapping as the dejected players walked off the court, drained after a 66-62 loss.
Calls into Columbia radio station KFRU/1400 AM on Wednesday indicated a sense of loss among Missouri fans.
After the latest off the court incident — five players were suspended indefinitely for violating team rules — some season ticket holders said they planned to show up just to see how bad it looked before getting out at halftime.
Seven Tigers did not allow that to happen.
After the game, coach Mike Anderson was asked what the suspended players saw as they watched their teammates play without them.
“They just saw some guys that went out there and left it on the floor,” Anderson said. “They saw some guys that represented Missouri even though they were short-handed. They never complained. They never thought for a minute that they were going to lose. It was like, ‘all we’ve got’ tonight.”
For 40 minutes, every time Nebraska took a lead, Missouri fought back. The Tigers turned a 12-5 deficit into 12-10, a 32-23 deficit into 32-30, and finally, with 3:30 left in the game, guard Matt Lawrence made a layup to tie the game at 58.
Then, with a minute left, after four of Missouri’s players had been on the court for more than 35 minutes, fatigue finally hit them. Nebraska scored six quick points and Missouri was done.
“The guys that were out there showed a new level of heart that I haven’t seen in a long time,” guard Matt Lawrence said. “All those guys that were battling out there in the end to put us in a position to win a basketball game, I think you’ve just got to give credit to the guys who were fighting, scrapping, who were getting loose balls, who were getting big rebounds, we got big stops at the end. All you can ask is to be in a position to win a basketball game and we were there.”
The fans were quietly optimistic as the game started. There was little noise when Missouri was on defense, but then a loud outburst when Missouri scored.
As the game progressed, the fans loosened up. It soon became clear that, despite missing five regular players, Missouri was still going to play its up-tempo game and try to win. That’s when the fans started to really get behind them.
One of the loudest points in the game was when, with 6:33 left in the first half, Missouri kept Nebraska guard Cookie Miller from getting a shot off before the shot clock expired. Throughout the game, any sign of hustle or guts got the fans louder and louder.
There were more fans when Missouri played Kansas on Jan. 19, but on Wednesday, they were connected with every play, showing more emotion than they have all season.
“Our fans, we can’t take nothing from them because they really stepped up and they cheered and they really kept up is in the game,” said forward DeMarre Carroll, who led Missouri with 15 points and 12 rebounds. “We were just one or two stops away and they still were behind us. You can’t ask for more then that.”
And the fans couldn’t have asked much more from seven Missouri players.