COLUMBIA — The build-up for Saturday’s game between Missouri and Kansas State showed two programs that were vastly separated by events that took place during the week.
Kansas State, ranked 22nd in the AP Poll and 24th in the coaches’ poll, was up.
It was looking out over the rest of the Big 12 Conference as the only remaining unbeaten team in Big 12 play. It had just defeated previously-unbeaten Kansas on Wednesday night, which was the first time in 24 years that the Wildcats had beaten the Jayhawks in Manhattan, Kan.
Missouri was down.
After the Tigers beat Colorado 66-62 last Saturday for its first road win, it looked like the team had turned a corner. Not only had it won a road game, but won a close game, something else it had yet to do this season.
But just hours later, after the team arrived back in Columbia, an altercation occurred outside of the Athena Night Club. This altercation resulted in a broken jaw for point guard Stefhon Hannah, leaving him out for four to six weeks.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Hannah and four other MU players - Marshall Brown, Darryl Butterfield, Jason Horton and Leo Lyons - were indefinitely suspended in connection with that altercation.
The Tigers played Nebraska on Wednesday night without those players. And while Kansas State was reaching a new emotional high 245 miles away, MU players could only take pride with them when they lost to the Cornhuskers by four points with only seven players stepping onto the floor.
On top of that, Horton was arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault on Friday afternoon. MU coach Mike Anderson said in a statement after the arrest that all five players remained suspended indefinitely. It appeared as though MU would be extremely shorthanded again for the game against Kansas State.
Throw into the mix that Wildcats’ forward Michael Beasley is arguably the best player in the country, and even the staunchest Tiger supporter would say Kansas State would have no problem disposing of Missouri on Saturday afternoon.
But instead of a blow-out victory, Kansas State got a difficult and physical game. Bodies were hitting the floor every minute, and once everything had played out, it was Missouri that emerged with a 77-74 victory.
A little over an hour before tip off, MU announced that two of the suspended players, Brown and Lyons, had been reinstated to play. Even with the players back from suspension, the Tigers struggled in the first half, and Kansas State took a 44-34 halftime lead. After the half, though, MU’s intensity picked up, and momentum shifted its direction.
“It was like a tale of two halves,” Anderson said. “I thought they (Kansas State) were the aggressor first half and I thought, in the second half, we were much more aggressive. Even though we played some zone, I thought our guys were very aggressive and in-tune with one another defensively, which enabled us to create some offense.”
Forward DeMarre Carroll only played five minutes in the first half because he had two fouls. He did not score a point or grab a rebound before intermission. In the second half Carroll helped spur the Tiger comeback with eight points and seven rebounds. He played all 20 minutes after halftime.
“We started getting them to play the way we wanted to play, up and down,” Carroll said of the difference between halves. “A couple guys got in early foul trouble, including myself, in the first half. In the second half we just said we were going to leave it all on the line, we’re not worry about fouls and you saw the pace started going fast.”
The other key player for MU on Saturday was sophomore guard J.T. Tiller, who scored a career-high 20 points. The Tigers didn’t lead in the game until Tiller’s lay-up with 2:03 left on the clock. Tiller was fouled on the play and made the free throw to complete a three-point play and make the score 75-72.
After Beasley made a lay-up and Lyons missed a shot, Kansas State had a chance to take the lead with under 30 seconds remaining. Fred Brown missed a lay-up for the Wildcats and Matt Lawrence was able to force a jump ball, which gave MU possession.
“I think that was one of the plays of the game,” Tiller said of Lawrence forcing the tie up. “I think that led us to the victory, that was a really big play.”
That jump ball led to Tiller getting fouled by Dominique Sutton with six seconds remaining. Tiller went to the free throw line with a chance to ensure that the Tigers would, in the worst scenario, be heading to overtime.
“It’s a free throw,” Tiller said of how he felt before his shots. “You know, it’s free. You’re supposed to knock that down. Coach has confidence in me, my teammates have confidence in me. There was no fear. It was just get on the line and make the free throws.”
Tiller made both free throws, and a Bill Walker three-pointer at the buzzer was no good to seal the upset.
And after the win, Carroll, Tiller and Keon Lawrence ran into the student section, a student section that was blockaded from rushing the court.
“We had to show them (the fans) that we really need their support and through everything we’ve been through in the past,” Carroll said. “We want to let them know that we’re still happy that they are sticking with us through thick and thin.”
It was a new experience for Keon Lawrence, but he was more than happy to run up there.
“That felt good,” Keon Lawrence said. “I look forward to doing that again.”
Carroll was the first player to go into the stands, and he had a reason behind it, it wasn’t just his instinct.
“I want my whole team to know, and the fans to know that we love them and we want them here every game,” Carroll said.