COLUMBIA — It was a picture perfect ending to a far from perfect regular season for the Missouri women’s basketball team.
With the Tigers ahead by two points with less than ten seconds to play in overtime, senior Jessra Johnson blocked a potential game-winning 3-point attempt by Texas Tech’s Ashlee Roberson, and Missouri escaped with 58-55 victory Sunday afternoon at Mizzou Arena on Senior Day, the last game of the regular season.
“They did a great job,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said while working through the tears. “It’s hard to talk about how much they mean to me.”
Johnson led the Tigers with 18 points, adding seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
“She does a great job as far as her versatility,” Texas Tech Kristy Curry said. “I know they’ll miss her.”
When the final buzzer sounded, signaling the end to a 10-game losing streak, Johnson and fellow senior Amanda Hanneman embraced in a firm, ten-second long hug to celebrate the occasion.
“It’s awesome,” Stein said. “And that’s the thing, you always remember your last game as a player. I think every single athlete will say that you’ll always remember your last game, especially at home because of all the people, your support, your family. I’m just proud of their efforts today.”
It was a special victory for Missouri’s four seniors. Johnson, Hanneman, Toy Richbow and Marissa Scott. They were all recognized before the game. Announced individually, each senior was handed a bouquet of yellow roses and awarded a personalized framed jersey. The four then came together for a picture and waved to the crowd before giving hugs to their family members.
“I was hoping they weren’t breaking down crying because that gets you as a coach,” Stein said. “Just seeing them with their families, that’s just a really significant moment in their life when you walk out there.”
The rest of the team realized how significant of a game this was for the seniors as well.
“I know how I would feel on my senior night, wanting to get a big win,” RaeShara Brown said. “I felt like they deserved it. We worked too hard the whole season. They’ve invested many great years here and I felt like they deserved to go out with a win today.”
Through their four years at Missouri, the seniors have compiled a record of 52-69. And unless the Tigers run the table and win the Big 12 Conference tournament this week in Kansas City, they will be the first group of seniors that have gone through their four years without an NCAA Tournament appearance during Stein’s tenure.
“The seniors are extremely special,” Stein said. “I want to see them have a successful year. I still want to go out trying to get that (Big 12) tournament win because I know what it means when you don’t go to the (NCAA) Tournament. I know they want that a lot as well.
And while Stein wants nothing more than to see her seniors get their moment in the spotlight, she realizes it’s about something more than just winning basketball games.
"I think the most proud I am of our seniors is the type of people they are," Stein said. "Just great people. They’re funny. The things they do in the community. You watch them out there in the crowd (interacting with the fans).”
Missouri (12-17, 2-14 Big 12) plays its first-round game in the Big 12 tournament at 1:30 p.m. Thursday against a still to be determined opponent. With Sunday’s victory, Missouri picked up a much needed confidence boost.
“Any win headed into a tournament like this is significant,” Stein said.