LAWRENCE, Kan. — Allen Fieldhouse hasn’t held many happy memories for Missouri forward Leo Lyons.
Lyons, a 6-foot-9 senior, is 0-4 with the Tigers in the home of the Kansas Jayhawks, losing by an average of 20 points in those games. Even though Saturday’s 90-65 defeat was Lyons’ best individual game against KU, it might have been his worst experience.
“It stings a lot more because I’ve only got two games left, and I really wanted this one bad to end with a bang, and that I’ve never won here,” Lyons said after the game.
Lyons’ 20 points was just one less than he scored in his first three games at Kansas combined. He also grabbed six rebounds for the Tigers.
Lyons, a Kansas City, Kan. native, showed no fear against Cole Aldrich, the Big 12 Conference’s best post defender. Three times, Lyons made slam dunks with the 6-foot-11 center in the vicinity.
“I was trying to keep him on his heels,” Lyons said. “A great shot blocker, you’ve got to try to keep him on his heels and keep him moving and that’s what I tried to do.”
But Lyons didn’t find his jump shot until the second half, when he made Missouri’s first field goal outside the paint with less than 19 minutes to play. He finished 7-of-15 from the field, including a 3-pointer.
Despite his strong offensive numbers, Lyons didn’t shy away from taking blame for Missouri’s biggest loss of the season. He scored 11 of the Tigers’ 19 points in the first half, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with the Jayhawks, who led 45-19 at halftime.
“It was our leadership today,” Lyons said. “We didn’t have our guys ready. When things went bad, we kind of went the other way instead of picking our team up.”
Aldrich scored just six points in the first half, with Lyons guarding him most of the way. But the Jayhawks’ guards had no problem getting inside the lane and shooting from the outside.
“I feel like I was doing a pretty good job at the time that I was guarding Cole Aldrich,” Lyons said. “So it wasn’t the inside presence that was killing us, it was just our team as a whole. Our help-side wasn’t there and our rebounding wasn’t there.”
Despite his offensive production, Lyons was on the bench for about six minutes of the first half, and then watched for eight minutes of the second half as the Tigers failed to cut into the Kansas lead.
“We had some guys that were playing pretty good (in the second half),” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “Our biggest nemesis was our defense and that’s where our defense was, and so we had some guys in that really had it.”
When Anderson brought Lyons out in the first half, Lyons showed some signs of frustration on his way past the coaching staff. Lyons and Anderson haven’t always had the most friendly relationship, but this time the Tigers’ second leading scorer wasn’t questioning his coach’s decision.
“I made a mistake when I came out and I understood that,” Lyons said. “I was just trying to get some fire to my team and just trying to show that I wanted it.”
Things won’t get any easier for Lyons in his next game against Oklahoma on Wednesday. He and fellow senior forward DeMarre Carroll will be assigned the difficult task of stopping Blake Griffin, the conference’s leading scorer and the heavy favorite for National Player of the Year honors. Anderson said Griffin can’t be stopped by one player, so Lyons and Carroll will probably get a lot of help from their teammates.
Missouri won’t get another chance to win at Allen Fieldhouse during Lyons’ career, but plenty of Tigers will be back next season to try to get Missouri’s first win at Kansas since 2000.
“This is by far the hardest place to play that I’ve ever played at in college” Lyons said. “We didn’t get the win today, but hopefully I gave these guys confidence to come in and try to do it again.”