COLUMBIA — Despite a campus nearly devoid of students, there were few empty seats at Columbia sports bars Thursday night as Tiger basketball fans packed in to cheer their team to a 102-92 victory over Memphis in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.
“I didn’t expect it to be busy, but all the tables were full," Chelsea Barr, a server at Harpo’s, said Friday afternoon. “There were a lot of Mizzou alumni in here. It was like a sea of gold.”
As Harpo’s patrons cheered Missouri highlights over lunch, Barr described the atmosphere at the bar during Thursday night's game, which a lot of Tiger fans said was one of the most intense they've seen.
“It was a really exciting game, really nail-biting at the end," Barr said. "The place went crazy after" Marcus Denmon's 65-foot, 3-point buzzer-beater at the end of the first half.
"People were screaming and running up and down. There were a lot of shots taken when the game was close. I guess people were getting nervous.”
Tiger fan Scott Jessip was having lunch at Harpo's on Friday.
“It’s exciting being in Columbia for one of the best Missouri basketball teams ever," he said. "Who would have thought back in August that our basketball team would end up ranked higher than our football team, and now we are going to be playing in the Elite Eight."
Jessip said he plans to go to a sports bar for Saturday's game against the University of Connecticut.
“With all the students gone, it's still a nice atmosphere, but you don’t have to fight for a seat that can see the TV.”
Tiger Spirit, a Mizzou apparel shop on Ninth Street, saw a boost in business Friday. Employees said they could tell because there were customers in the store during spring break.
Tiger Spirit employee Denaye Dollens, who played golf for MU, said fans are eager to buy MU merchandise.
“I think people are more excited about this than they were for football. We open at 9 a.m., and I had three calls about Elite Eight T-shirts.”
Tiger Spirit has no such shirts. Store staff said they expect manufacturers will probably make new shirts if Missouri makes it to the Final Four in Detroit.
Although the weather forecast for Saturday calls for whipping winds and thunderstorms with up to five inches of accumulation of snow, Bengals Bar and Grill is gearing up for a big turnout for the afternoon game, said Brian Becker, the restaurant's assistant manager.
“We can hold about 250 people inside, and outside we will have all four sides of the tent up with every heater we’ve got on full blast. We’ll have two or three large TVs out there, so everyone can see the game.”
The Tigers face the UConn Huskies in Glendale, Ariz., on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:40 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on CBS, KRCG/Channel 13.