COLUMBIA — When the crowd has roared, so have the Missouri Tigers.
All season, when vocal fans have been present in the stands, the energy of the Missouri men’s basketball team has picked up. And with the teams’ goal of applying pressure on the defensive end of the court, boisterous crowds have helped.
The crowds have helped spark comebacks, and extend leads. But as the season has grown older, and Missouri’s record has grown worse - the Tigers finished 16-15 - the fan support has decreased.
The two lowest attendances at Mizzou Arena during Big 12 Conference play came in Missouri’s last two games. Against Oklahoma State, an attendance of 7,692 was announced, and in the home finale against Iowa State, 7,691 was the announced attendance.
The Tigers play in the first round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship against Nebraska at 6 p.m. Thursday in Kansas City’s Sprint Center. Missouri played in the Sprint Center in November, taking on Michigan State and Maryland in the College Basketball Experience Classic. There was an announced attendance of 18,022 for the Michigan State game and 16,737 for the Maryland game.
Most of those in the stands during the two games were cheering loudly for the Tigers. The game against the Spartans provided some of the most emotion of the season, when Missouri came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to get within a point before losing 86-83. At no other point in the season were Tiger fans cheering louder than on that night.
Forward DeMarre Carroll said you can’t worry about what kind of crowd will show up, and that he just needs to take the court and play ball.
“If the fans come, they come. If they don’t, they don’t,” Carroll said. “We just got to go out there with the mind-set that we come and want nothing else to win. If our fans show up, that’s a positive. If they don’t, we’re still going to go in there with the same attitude.”
Guard Matt Lawrence said he thought the crowd support helped the Tigers in the CBE Classic.
“I Hope they come out and give us the same support because I think that was really good for us,” Lawrence. “We stuck with Michigan State the whole game; we got the win over Maryland who might be a tournament team this year too. I think just having that kind of home court advantage could be good for us.”
Just glancing around the audience in November, it appeared to be mostly an older crowd. There didn’t appear to be hoards of MU students there.
Scott Belden is an MU senior who is more of a casual fan of the team. He made it to Mizzou Arena for a game this year, but has no plans to drive to Kansas City.
“Unless I had like a free ticket, then sure,” Belden said.
He said things would change if the Tigers were on the national scale this year, adding that he followed the football team a lot closer at the end of the season when the teams’ ranking skyrocketed.
If they were better, would Belden be in Kansas City?
“Probably, because that (being ranked high) doesn’t happen that often, so you might as well check it out,” Belden said.
Carroll said that a 6 p.m. start time should help increase attendance numbers.
“At least it’s not the early game where people have to try to get off work and try to get out there,” Carroll said. “It should help us and it should help our fans get there, the dedicated fans, the fans that really still have faith in us.”
Whether it’s a big crowd or not, support should be on the Tigers’ side because of the proximity of MU to Kansas City, compared to the distance that Nebraska fans would have to travel.
But the more fans that show up, the better off the Tigers will be.