The outlook was bleak for Missouri's basketball team Monday night at Mizzou Arena.
Game, biggest deficit, final score
vs. USC*, 35-23 (4:52 left 1st half), 83-72
at Texas, 28-16 (6:37 left 1st half), 69-65
vs. Kansas, 30-16 (19:37 left 2nd half), 62-60
* Puerto Rico Tipoff in San Juan
The Tigers were shooting 24 percent, being dominated on the glass and trailing Kansas 30-16. In the locker room, Missouri coach Mike Anderson spoke to his team about the bad news and voiced his displeasure.
"They came out and they took the fight to us in the first half," Anderson said after the game. "They were more aggressive."
But then the coach reminded his team that there was still time to make things right. Twenty minutes of basketball later, coach Mike Anderson had his first win in three years against Kansas, and Missouri had its third win in three tries against ranked opponents.
"It was all or nothing at that point," said DeMarre Carroll, who scored 16 points in 17 minutes in the second half. "When you're down 14 points at the half, you just have to chip away. You can’t get 14 points in one play and it starts with defense. You’ve got to get stops in order to win when you’re down."
In a similar situation against Illinois in Missouri's other rivalry, the Tigers — ranked 24th at the time — never threatened any sort of second-half comeback on their way to a 75-59 loss. It was a big failure for a young team that came into the game with a great chance to finally end its eight-year drought in the annual Braggin' Rights Game.
"They wanted it a lot more and I thought it showed in the effort level," said a downcast Anderson after the game. "That’s one thing I can say about our team throughout this year, no one really has out-efforted us and I thought tonight, Illinois did."
Behind a loud sellout crowd of 15,061, Missouri didn't make the same mistake against its biggest interstate rivals. The renewed energy of the Tigers' defense forced 15 Kansas turnovers in the second half and sparked Missouri to 46 points, 19 of which came off turnovers.
After the final whistle blew, the Tigers weren't too tired to encourage the students to join them on the court to celebrate the biggest victory of the Mike Anderson era.
"I thought their effort was fabulous the whole game," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "They just played poorly in the first half and we played better than them. In the second half, they played better than us."
Like Zaire Taylor's game-winning shot, Missouri's resiliency wasn't anything new. Last week at Texas, the Tigers trailed by 12 points before Taylor's game-winner shocked the Longhorn faithful. Even early in the season against then-No.20 Southern California in Puerto Rico, the Tigers erased a 12-point first half deficit to beat the Trojans 83-72.
Anderson likes to talk about Missouri benefiting from fatigue created by its energetic style of play. Last week, Texas missed five of nine free throws in the final five minutes. Monday night, Kansas star Sharron Collins, an 84 percent free throw shooter for the season, went 0 for 2 with just under two minutes left.
Missouri guard J.T. Tiller, who Carroll said should be named defensive player of the year, said the Tigers thrive in late-game situations. After losing to Xavier by four and at Nebraska by five in its first two close games this season, Missouri is 3-0 in games decided by five points or less.
"We like to say in practice the last 10 minutes of the game is our game," Tiller said. "With our depth and everything like that, we like to use it to our advantage and when we see them bleeding we like to put our foot in their neck."
On Saturday, the Missouri will get a chance to improve on its No. 17 ranking and stay in the race for the Big 12 title against Nebraska, who sits one spot behind the Tigers at fourth place in the standings.
Missouri will also be looking to redeem itself for the game where their biggest comeback fell just short. One month and one day ago in Lincoln, Neb., the Tigers cut a 19-point second half lead to one before losing 56-51.