NORMAN, Okla. — Putting together 40 solid minutes has baffled the Missouri basketball team all season, but Saturday, the Tigers not only brought their most consistent game to Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., but they also packed enough for 45 minutes.
After chipping away at a 12-point hole, the Tigers defeated No. 11 Oklahoma 79-75 in overtime.
“We found our way tonight,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “Regardless of whether we win or lose, if we play that way, I’m going to be pleased with my team.”
After dropping six of their previous nine games, the Tigers’ turnaround came at the most unlikely time in the most unlikely place.
“I think we needed it more than we wanted. We wanted this game so bad because you don’t win these types of games,” Missouri guard Jimmy McKinney said. “This is Oklahoma.”
The Tigers shot only three overtime field goals, but that was all they needed.
The Tigers dominated the extra period, scoring seven straight to lead 65-59 before Sooner freshman Drew Lavender hit a free throw with two minutes left.
Their lead was enough to hold from the free-throw line and stun the Oklahoma crowd of 9,600 with the upset.
“I told the guys in the last huddle, ‘You hear the sound right now? There’s no sound in the building. Make these free throws, let’s get out of here, let’s go home. Let’s leave with a win,’” Missouri’s Josh Kroenke said. “We just demanded more of each other at that point.”
Lavender and Jaison Williams swished 3s to keep give their team a last-ditch chance, but while the Sooners fouled desperately to bide time for a comeback, the Tigers sank 14-of-18 foul shots.
“It’s big for them,” Snyder said. “They know the things that are being said and written about them. In some respects we deserved it. We haven’t played the way we’ve wanted to play. Nobody’s been more wanting to win than those guys.”
Snyder was more impressed with how they got to overtime than the final score.
When the Tigers found themselves down by 12 early in the second half, it seemed as if the Tigers’ recurring comeback shortcomings were back.
After launching a few desperate 3-pointers, the Tigers settled their offense and followed the game plan that has served them best: Pounding the ball inside.
Arthur Johnson, the Tigers’ 6-foot-9 center, stopped the Sooners’ surge with a driving layup, and power forwards Linas Kleiza and Travon Bryant combined for 13 points in the Tigers’ 22-9 run. They regained the lead 50-49 with 5:29 left.
“We saw that they couldn’t stop our big men on the block, so we made sure that we got the ball to the big men when we were down,” McKinney said. “They made things happen for us, and that’s what we wanted.”
Senior Rickey Paulding earned 16 of his team-high 23 points during the second half.
Three other Tigers also posted double digits. Johnson scored 16, and Kleiza netted 12. Bryant finished with 12, and McKinney added 11.
The Sooners found their long-range hot spot early in the second half.
After leading 26-24 at the half, freshmen Lawrence McKenzie and Lavender made four 3s from the left corner with their bench right behind them, stunning the Tigers in the second half with a 14-4 run. The Sooners’ offensive rebounds during that stretch hurt the Tigers more than poor perimeter defense. Oklahoma grabbed five during that stretch.
Missouri didn’t give away many more second chances. They grabbed 35 rebounds to the Sooners’ 24.
“I am so pleased to see are team, when we were down 12, use that adversity to come together any more,” Snyder said. “We’ve got a lot of moving parts on this team, and when we have that many moving parts, it can misfire occasionally. Not for lack of trying, but for familiarity’s sake.”
All the pieces finally fell into place for the Tigers. Even if his team lost after its performance Saturday, Snyder said the Tigers effort would have been enough to change their season.
“If we play that way and we don’t win, you might cry, but it will be a different type of tears when you leave something out there,” he said.
Even though it looked as if Snyder threw away his old game plan and rewrote the calls for Saturday, he said nothing changed. The Tigers’ focus finally kicked in, he said.
“I think it’s a lift in some respects, but I also think it’s more how we did it,” Snyder said. “The script here tonight was different, in the sense that I thought the first half we really executed.
“In the past that’s bothered us. It’s been hard to overcome that. Tonight, we really did it together.”
Although the Tigers’ suffered defensive lapses in their losses, they had a season-high 10 steals against the Sooners. They created mayhem for a Sooners’ offense that turned the ball over 19 times.
“I’m not doing anything different the last couple of weeks as far as what the basics the fundamentals of what we’re teaching them since my first year when we were a heck of a defensive team,” Snyder said.
Whatever happened between Monday’s loss to Syracuse and Saturday, Johnson said the team finally showed what all those preseason expectations were about.
“I guess that’s what happens sometimes,” he said. “You get rewarded for playing good down the stretch.”