COLUMBIA — With 3:25 left on the clock and the Missouri women's basketball team clinging to a two-point lead, Sydney Crafton's face appeared on the video screen at Mizzou Arena.
"Get up, Tiger fans!" her video likeness urged. "De-fense! De-fense!"
The video stopped, and on the court below, she answered her own call.
Near half court, Crafton stole the ball from the Western Illinois ballhandler at the top of the key and raced past her, breaking away for an easy layup.
A minute later, freshman Lianna Doty recreated the play to bring the Tigers' lead to six. One Morgan Eye 3-pointer later, the Tigers had jumped into the driver's seat after trading blows with the Leathernecks all night.
In the first close game of the season for an inexperienced team, the Tigers pulled away for a 70-61 victory Thursday night at Mizzou Arena.
Crafton, the team's only four-year senior, set the tone from the beginning Thursday, when she won the first opening tip-off she took in her college career and brought it in for a layup.
"I think the main thing was, we kept our composure," Crafton said. "We'd hit a three, and then they'd hit a three, but that didn't let that deflate us. We stuck with it, we played our game, and finally, we broke them down."
Crafton finished the game with 19 points and four steals.
"Sydney, Sydney, Sydney," coach Robin Pingeton said playfully in the postgame press conference. "She's so explosive. She's so strong. Sydney's been so fun to coach this year."
Pingeton turned her body and leaned over the table to get a better look at Crafton as a reluctant smile spread across her player's face.
"We all know I've been on her since the first day I walked through the door, and I didn't even know her," Pingeton said. "I think this is going to be a fun senior year for her. I think she finally understands what we're trying to get done."
Crafton credited the two other players at the podium, Doty and sophomore Kyley Simmons, for stepping into their roles as point guard and keeping the team energized and focused.
With games against Wichita State, Green Bay and Minnesota coming up in next week's Cancun Challenge tournament, Pingeton said she was glad to see her team thrive under pressure.
"I think this was a great warmup game for those kinds of situations, but I think we've got kids who have superb confidence in themselves and in each other," Pingeton said. "I look forward to those games. That's what it's all about. That's why you play the game."
Doty finished with 14 points, eight assists and five steals. Eye added 12 points all on 3-pointers.
The win brings the Tigers to 3-0 this season. Missouri will have a week off before it hits the road for the first time at the Cancun Challenge. The tournament will tip off at 2:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day with a game against Wichita State.