COLUMBIA — As the final seconds ticked off the clock in the Missouri women's basketball team's game on Sunday, Sydney Crafton slowly lifted the ball in her right hand, a smile spreading across her face.
The opponent: No. 9 Tennessee. The score: Missouri 80, Tennessee 63. The time left on the game clock: 0.00.
The crowd erupted, and the Tigers broke out in hugs on the court as the buzzer sounded on the biggest win for Missouri since Robin Pingeton began her tenure as coach in 2010.
Pingeton had insisted last week that this was a different team than the one that had lost to the Volunteers 84-39 in Knoxville on Jan. 10. She was right.
She had said before the conference season started that she believed the Tigers would, at some point, get a win in the Southeastern Conference that they weren't expected to garner.
Right again. This was certainly unexpected.
Tennessee came into the game with a perfect 8-0 record in the SEC. Missouri hadn't beaten a Top 10 opponent since a January 2010 win against Baylor when Cindy Stein was coaching the Tigers.
Missouri took control with a nine-point lead with six minutes remaining in the game and never looked back, despite the Volunteers' unrelenting full-court pressure through the final minutes.
As elated howls rang through the tunnel outside the media room, Tennessee coach Holly Warlick struggled to explain the 62-point swing from the last time the teams met.
"Missouri just ... they played harder," Warlick said. "They were better and hit more shots and hit threes."
Tennessee, already depleted by the season-ending injuries of guard Andraya Carter and center Isabelle Harrison, saw Kamiko Williams leave the game with an injury at the beginning of the second half. Williams led the Volunteers with 14 points Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Volunteers struggled to stop Missouri's offensive attack. Sophomore guard Morgan Eye led the team with 26 points, including six 3-pointers. Bri Kulas added 20 points, and Liz Smith had 10.
"They're a different type of team than every SEC team," Tennessee senior guard Taber Spani said. "No one shoots the ball like them that I've played in four years."
Pingeton said she saw Sunday's win and Thursday's win against Florida as indicative of her young team's growth since SEC play began.
"I think we have a much better understanding now of the physicality of the league and how hard you have to box out and really limit team's second shot attempts," Pingeton said. "We felt like if we could control those better, we would have a chance."
The win is a big step towards Pingeton's stated goals of reaching the middle of the pack in the SEC and making the postseason.
"It's an awfully big one, there's no doubt about it," Pingeton said. "We've had a lot of big wins over the year. But this is certainly — this is special."
With the win, Missouri improves to 15-8 overall and 4-5 in SEC play. The Tigers will have the week off before resuming play against Mississippi State next Sunday at Mizzou Arena.