COLUMBIA — DeMarre Carroll opened the season with a career-high 23 points. On Wednesday, he capped off the home portion of the season with a monstrous two-handed dunk for his 25th and 26th points, a new career high.
Granted it was double overtime, and Missouri is still 16-14 and currently in ninth place in the Big 12 Conference, but Carroll’s performance in Missouri’s 81-75 win over visiting Iowa State gives the team a reason to look up.
Carroll had been rendered ineffective during a five-game stretch after reaggravating an ankle sprain Feb. 4 against Kansas. He broke out of that slump on Saturday, scoring 17 points and grabbing six rebounds in a loss at Baylor.
Carroll looked like that healthy player from the season opener again Wednesday.
“He even finished the game up on a dunk,” coach Mike Anderson said. “I don’t think he’d dunked since he, probably, got hurt earlier in the year. So it’s good to see that.”
Carroll had been Missouri’s leading scorer for much of the season, but after the injury forward Leo Lyons surpassed him. During that five-game stretch, Carroll averaged 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. Coming into Wednesday’s game he was averaging 12.5 points and 6.6 rebounds.
“He just makes a big difference in our basketball team,” Anderson said. “I think you saw some of that at Baylor. He gives us leadership. He had been playing through a lot of pain.”
Carroll said he started noticing a difference during the second half of the Baylor game.
“I was sitting on the bench and I was like, ‘I know this isn’t only a physical thing but a mental thing too,’” Carroll said. “So I was just like, ‘There goes the mental thing.’ Now I don’t really even think when I’m out there no more. I just go out there and play hard.”
Carroll made another change in the Baylor game. It was the first time all season that he didn’t wear compression sleeves on his lower legs for tendonitis, which he had been using to keep his knees warm. He didn’t wear them again on Tuesday.
“I feel good without them too,” Carroll said.
When asked how they feel knowing that NFL players miss usually around six weeks with a high ankle sprain, Carroll and Lyons didn’t try to make any excuses.
“Not with Coach A,” they both said.
ATTENDANCE LOW: Only 7,691 fans showed up to see the last game at Mizzou Arena for seniors Marshall Brown, Darryl Butterfield, Jason Horton and Vaidotas Volkus. It was the smallest home crowd for the Tigers since 5,656 showed up to see the Tigers play University of Missouri-Kansas City on Jan. 8.
Mizzou Arena averaged 8,040 fans this season and 10,980 fans over eight Big 12 games.
Missouri could still play one more home game if it is selected to play in the National Invitation Tournament or the new College Basketball Invitational. Both tournaments play first-round games at campus locations of the higher seeded teams.
Neither tournament would be expected to draw big crowds to Mizzou Arena though. In 2005, the most recent year Missouri made the NIT, only 5,997 fans showed up to see the Tigers lose a first-round game 75-70 to DePaul. The Tigers averaged 9,773 fans that year.
As of Tuesday, nitology.com , an unofficial NIT prediction Web site, projects Missouri as a No. 5 seed in the tournament, which would mean the Tigers would not host a first-round game.
STREAK STOPPED: Missouri’s four seniors started the final regular season home game, and the fifth spot went to Keon Lawrence. That ended Matt Lawrence’s streak of consecutive games started at 59. The junior guard had started every game for the past two seasons and was on the projected starting lineup given to the media before Wednesday’s game.
Anderson said he doesn’t pay attention to stats like that.
“To me, starting is not important,” Anderson said. “The key is playing time, and you want quality playing time.”
Keon Lawrence has been Missouri’s hot hand in the Big 12 Conference season. He has been averaging 14.2 points per game since rejoining the starting lineup against Nebraska on Jan. 30. Before that, he was averaging 10 points per game. He scored nine points Wednesday before fouling out.
GOING SOMEWHERE: More than a few fans left the arena during a timeout with two minutes left and Missouri leading 59-58. In Missouri’s last home game, against Oklahoma State, large crowds began leaving the arena during a timeout with 1.7 seconds left while Missouri had the ball and was trailing by two points.