COLUMBIA — Like a can of spinach for Popeye, the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena have been a renewable source of energy for the 11th ranked Missouri Tigers.
Missouri’s 17-game home winning streak has been well-documented. After Wednesday night’s 94-74 thrashing of Kansas State, the Tigers are tied with Siena and Dayton for the sixth longest home win streak in the country. The fans have responded and the Tigers nearly had their fourth-straight sellout.
“I think we’re getting used to it, and I think we’re also feeding off it,” senior Matt Lawrence said. “They were great there in the first half when we went on our little run. I know guys were getting tired out there, but the crowd stayed in it and kind of pushed us along.”
But the Tigers haven’t just won in Columbia, they’ve been dominant. Coach Mike Anderson’s team is 17-0 at home this season with an average margin of victory of more than 26 points, and it has surpassed 80 points 12 times.
The Tigers have played away games and home games against four Big 12 Conference teams (Colorado, Iowa State, Nebraska and Kansas State) this season. The difference has been clear.
Both Kansas State and Nebraska beat the Tigers on the road in January. Neither team got close in front of crowds of more than 14,000 at Mizzou Arena this month.
“When you play at home, you have a tendency to feed off your crowd,” Anderson said. “But at the same time, when you go on the road, I think you’ve really got to do a lot of good things.”
After a five-point loss in Lincoln, Neb., Missouri beat the Cornhuskers by 23 in Columbia. The difference against the Wildcats was even greater, with a 36-point turnaround from the Tigers 88-72 loss in Manhattan.
“You take guys on the road for their first time, they don’t understand it,” Anderson said. “They don’t understand the significance of it, especially with seven new players.”
Even before Tiger fans were filling the seats at Mizzou Arena, Missouri was still crushing Big 12 opponents. In front of a crowd of less than 10,000 on Jan. 14, the Tigers destroyed Colorado, 107-62. When over 12,000 showed up three days later, Iowa State was the victim in a 77-46 victory.
When Missouri made the return trip to Iowa State, it was a much closer 82-68 win. At Colorado, the Buffaloes gained 32 points from the first meeting….and still lost by 13 points.
“We just came out tonight, and we just tried to protect the home turf,” senior forward DeMarre Carroll said, echoing a sentiment he and his teammates have expressed all season.
There are plenty of reasons for the Tigers superior play at home, including field goal percentage and much better production from the freshmen. But Matt Lawrence cited the defense as the biggest difference when Missouri plays on Norm Stewart Court. Against the four teams it’s played twice, Missouri has forced 22 more turnovers in home games than on the road.
Next week, the Tigers will have a chance to finish an undefeated season at Mizzou Arena with possibly their toughest opponent yet. They will face No. 3 Oklahoma, who was 11-0 in Big 12 play before it lost two games in three days to Texas and Kansas.
The outcome of a game in Mizzou Arena has really only been in doubt late in the game once all season. That was, of course, in the Tigers’ last-second 62-60 victory over rival Kansas.
On Sunday, the Tigers will travel to Lawrence, Kan., where the Jayhawks hold a 39-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse, the longest in the country. Anderson knows it will be a new experience for a lot of his young players.
“I’m sure it’s going to be the ultimate challenge,” Anderson said. “Maybe they don’t know, sometimes that’s good. They don’t know what they’re going into.”