COLUMBIA — While J.T. Tiller hung in the air, the crowd was still silent. When he landed on Norm Stewart Court with his hands grasping the basketball that had just been squirting across the floor, the birth of a cheer could be heard. As he flicked a pass toward Jason Horton, the crescendo continued.
And when Horton put the ball in the basket before an Iowa State defender could knock it away, the crowd became alive for the first time.
From that point on, the crowd hung on every shot, cheered every rebound, and tried to will the Missouri men’s basketball team to victory in its final home game of the season.
Before Tiller secured that loose ball with 13:18 left in Wednesday’s game, silence and unmotivated play were the story. The Tigers were mostly shooting, and missing, jump shots and the crowd was unresponsive.
As the crowd awakened from an apparent hibernation, much like when the Tigers played Colorado on Feb. 23 at Mizzou Arena, the team’s energy lifted.
Tempo increased, steals and deflections picked up, and the Tigers were driving to the basket for layups instead of settling for jumpers. When they took jump shots, they were falling through the net at a higher rate.
The crowd even rose to its feet at one point, something that seemed unlikely during the game’s first 25 minutes.
“J.T. does a good job of bringing energy,” Horton said. “When he brings his energy, we’re a much better team. Everybody seems to feed off it. Energy is just key to the way we play, if we don’t have energy it’s tough for us to do what we do.”
That energy remained from that point on, and the Tigers won 81-75 in double overtime.
Missouri trailed when Tiller made that play, and every player executed during the comeback that followed. DeMarre Carroll grabbed rebounds and scored inside, Keon Lawrence made mid-range jumpers, Matt Lawrence made threes and Jason Horton sank free throws.
“I thought our pressure defense kind of picked up,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “We were down and we found some kind of energy. Our fans they kept us in it.”
It was team play in the sense that Anderson has talked about all season. You didn’t know who was going to make the next big play.
Keon Lawrence fouled out with about three minutes left in regulation, leaving Horton and Tiller to play both overtimes without another player to help bring the ball up.
“I thought they responded well,” Anderson said of Tiller and Horton. “That’s what team is all about. Somebody else has got to step up to the plate. And I thought they did.”
Horton played 42 of 50 minutes and did not commit a turnover. And while Tiller and Horton were the unsung heroes, the stars of the game were Carroll and Leo Lyons.
Carroll scored a career-high 26 points to lead the Tigers and Lyons had 19.
“I thought we took advantage of what they gave us,” Anderson said. “We got the ball to DeMarre and Leo and they were able to make plays.”
The Tigers grinded the game out down the stretch to get reach the first overtime, though Lyons had a shot rim out at the regulation buzzer that would have won it. Missouri had momentum on its side and went on a run to start the extra session.
But with 1.7 seconds left in the first overtime, Iowa State’s Diante Garrett sank a short jumper to send the game to a second overtime. This time, Iowa State had the momentum.
The feeling when watching Missouri players retake the court for the second overtime was that they would not prevail. They had a six-point lead in the first overtime and squandered it back into a tie.
But like the rest of the game, they found a way, and most importantly, did not tire down the stretch.
“The good thing about it is that we practice that every day,” Lyons said of heading into the second overtime. “We practice at the end to just go harder, just not run out of gas. That’s how we condition, that’s how we practice every single day. It was just like practices again.”