One State, One Spirit Classic a unique event for Missouri men's basketball team

Sunday, October 30, 2011 | 10:18 p.m. CDT; updated 9:50 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Missouri Southern State University and Missouri players cheer as MSSU guard TJ Williams waves to the crowd at the end of the One State, One Spirit Classic in Joplin on Sunday night. The charity exhibition game was more about the atmosphere and spirit of the community than the competition that night.

JOPLIN — It really wasn't about basketball. 

How else would you explain a game that featured ESPNU nationally televising a Division II school, a sold-out arena with a crowd cheering for both teams and a final score of 114-68 that meant both teams won?

"The Black and Gold game. That's the only other time I can think of," Missouri senior Kim English said.

The One State, One Spirit Classic, a fundraiser held Sunday night at Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, was a game of emotions. 

On Saturday, the Missouri Tigers toured the damage with ESPN reporter Dana O'Neil. They saw the skeleton of Joplin High School, where books still sitting on shelves can be seen inside the shell of a classroom. They saw a Home Depot that had been flattened and where three people lost their lives.

They saw a destroyed city in the process of rebuilding. 

"What you hear doesn't do it any justice," English said.

On Saturday night, the Tigers and Missouri Southern State Lions attended a VIP reception for those who purchased one of the 48 courtside seats for $500.

"I would hope that our team, coming from here, would be able to see the spirit of the folks here in Joplin and the courage that these folks had based on what they had to go through," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. 

When Missouri starters English, Phil Pressey, Matt Pressey, Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon were announced, they ran to the Missouri Southern State bench to shake hands with Lions coach Robert Corn. 

A slow clap ushered in the Lions, and the crowd cheered, even those in black and gold. 

Before Desi Hickman, a recent Missouri Southern graduate and Joplin tornado survivor, sang the National Anthem, the arena stood for a 22-second moment of silence in remembrance of the May 22 tornado. 

Gov. Jay Nixon spoke in the team's locker rooms before the game and was among the 3,477 people in the record crowd. The Classic raised at least $375,000 for the United Way's tornado relief efforts in Joplin. 

"One State. One Spirit. One Mizzou." T-shirts went on sale May 24 as a way to support the United Way's United for Joplin campaign and raised more than $275,000. Before the game, an announcement was made that the game itself would raise upwards of $100,000. 

Those numbers don't include the T-shirts sold at the game, the text-to-give campaign promoted by the Missouri Athletics Department or the funds generated through the event's exposure. 

While it might not have been all about basketball, a game was played. And, the Lions, it turns out, are kind of good.

As defending Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association IAA champions, the team is ranked No. 1 in both the coaches' preseason poll and the media poll in Division II. 

Missouri's Denmon led with 25 points. But that was seconded by Missouri Southern's Keane Thomann's 21 points and seven rebounds. 

"Yeah, those guys are good," English said.  

Jason Adams, who scored 18 points for the Lions, played despite having back surgery to repair a herniated disc three weeks earlier. 

"He was the one kid that we had that wasn't overwhelmed in the situation," Corn said of Adams. 

The game was a glimpse of what strengths Missouri will be working with this season, and size isn't one of them. The Tigers' small lineup worked against the Division II school but might not find as much success in Big 12 Conference competition. 

"We executed offensively. Our defense was OK. It has to get better," Haith said. "I thought we played well."

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