NORMAN, Okla. – Coming in, the Missouri men’s basketball team knew winning at Oklahoma’s Lloyd Noble Center would not be easy and would probably be decided in the final moments.
It wasn’t easy and was decided in overtime, and that’s what made Saturday’s 79-75 victory against the Sooners all the more special.
“(It’s) one of the greatest feelings since I’ve been here, especially in a place like this,” senior forward Travon Bryant said. “To be a part of a game like this, the way we won the game too, is the biggest factor about it. We’re a happy group right now.”
The crucial element in the come-from-behind, overtime upset of the 11th-ranked Sooners, was that the Tigers did not falter in the final minutes.
As the game neared its conclusion, it appeared to be following a familiar pattern.
The Tigers (7-6, 2-1 Big 12 Conference) allowed the Sooners to build a double-digit margin early in the second half. When Sooners’ freshman Lawrence McKenzie hit a 3-pointer with 16:02 left, the Tigers trailed 40-28. Similar to previous games, the Tigers rallied and gained a 50-49 lead with 5:29 left. Unlike previous games, though, the Tigers were able to secure a needed victory.
“This would have been a devastating game for us to lose,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “In that way, I think it’s a huge boost for these guys.”
Bryant, who had been limited against the Sooners because of foul trouble, capped the Tigers’ rally with a 3-pointer from the right corner. The basket put the Tigers ahead for the first time since they led 22-19 with 6:52 left in the first half.
Against Gonzaga on Dec. 13, the Tigers sent the game to overtime but because of foul trouble were beaten 87-80. Against Illinois on Dec. 23, the Tigers frantically recovered from a 21-point deficit before losing 71-70 in the final minute. On Dec. 27, Memphis withstood a late push from MU to win 61-59. On Jan. 7, the Tigers also held a lead with fewer than five minutes left at Iowa State in their Big 12 opener. The Cyclones won 70-65.
Despite all of the late game struggles, the Tigers continue to work in practice. Snyder said it has paid off because he saw the effort and intensity from practice carry over to the game Saturday.
“We’ve had a lot of situations where we’ve needed a rebirth, whether it’s Jan. 1 or the start of conference play or whatever it is,” Snyder said. “These guys have stayed tough.”
Freshman guard Thomas Gardner said the team talked during practice about creating and keeping pressure on both ends of the court. On Saturday, the Tigers forced 19 turnovers and shot 49 percent.
Another satisfying aspect to the win against the Sooners (10-3, 0-2) is that it provides the Tigers with a boost in the Big 12.
“Conference road wins are always big,” senior center Arthur Johnson said. “I’m happy we got one versus Oklahoma, a good team. We got to keep it going.”
The only negative for the Tigers was 19 turnovers, their highest total since they committed 19 on Dec. 21 against UNC-Greensboro. Snyder, though, dismissed it because he said most of them were charging or traveling violations. He also said the Tigers did a better job moving the ball.
“I think (Saturday) was our best effort as a team,” Gardner said. “Everybody did what they could to contribute.”