Taylor and Tiller spur Missouri's comeback

Monday, February 9, 2009 | 11:25 p.m. CST; updated 12:36 a.m. CST, Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Missouri's J.T. Tiller drives with the ball late in the second half. Starting guards J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor are known for their defense, and the two juniors led the Tigers to a comeback over Kansas.

COLUMBIA — Trailing by 14 at halftime of the Border Showdown, Missouri coach Mike Anderson called out starting guards Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller.

The magnitude of Monday's soldout Border Showdown between No. 16 Kansas and No. 17 Missouri had them flustered. The usually composed Tiller and Taylor were nervous.

"I thought we were kind of tentative, maybe just being in this atmosphere with so many new guys," Anderson said.

Anderson let Taylor and Tiller know how he felt about their play in the first half.

"If you really want to know what turned the game around, I'd say these two guys (Tiller and Taylor)," senior DeMarre Carroll said. "Coach was getting on them the whole game. Every mistake they made, coach was on them, and you see they responded at the end."

In the second half, the pair of guards looked like different players. Playing at the top of the Tigers' zone defense, Tiller and Taylor prevented Kansas' perimeter players from scoring or entering the ball into the post.

Taylor replaced his early anxiety with effort, deflecting pass after pass and repeatedly shouting in the faces of teammates and opponents.

Tiller spent most of the game guarding Kansas star Sherron Collins, who scored in single figures for only the second time this season.

"In the second half J.T. was like a Tasmanian Devil. I mean, he was everywhere," Anderson said.

Together, Taylor and Tiller helped force the Jayhawks into 27 turnovers.

"Our defense in the second half, I thought was a big difference in the game," Anderson said.

And the pair of junior guards saved their best work for the final minute of the game.

Tiller made a jump shot in the lane with 50 seconds left to give Missouri its first lead of the second half. It was his only basket of the game.

After Kansas tied it, Taylor made a jump shot from the right elbow with 1.3 seconds left to send Missouri to victory. It was Taylor's second winning shot in less than a week.

"I had a pump fake and an open look and knocked it down," Taylor said. "Really I just feel like it's a blessing to play on a stage like this and it's amazing."

After a desperation heave by Kansas came up short, the student section rushed the court, celebrating with arms extended above their heads and their index fingers pronouncing that the Tigers are No. 1.

The fans stayed on the court for the alma mater, waving their arms back and forth while singing.

The win places Missouri in the thick of the race for the Big 12 title, one game behind the second-place Jayhawks.

The last time Missouri found itself in the national rankings and playing on national TV, it suffered a devastating loss to Illinois in the Braggin' Rights game.

The Tigers weren't going to let that happen again. Even after falling behind by so many.

Anderson usually mandates that his players put games behind them at midnight, win or lose. This time, he said he's making an exception.

Missouri has a day off to celebrate.

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