Missouri has grown up.
Earlier in the season when games tightened at the end, the Tigers struggled to produce victories. The late-game struggles forced the Tigers below the .500 mark.
On Tuesday night, the Tigers displayed how they have learned to win close games with a 93-92 double-overtime victory against No. 6 Oklahoma State in a Big 12 Conference game at Hearnes Center.
“I’m not going to try to estimate what it feels like to lose a game like this,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “It was a big game. We’ve lost some games like this. We’ve lost this game a couple times, but we didn’t stop playing.
“That’s the thing that makes me feel good about these guys. They haven’t ever packed it in.”
Texas defeated the Tigers 75-69 in overtime Jan. 20, and Gonzaga outlasted the Tigers in overtime 87-80 on Dec. 13.
The Tigers (14-10, 8-5 Big 12), though, refused to lose to the Cowboys, who beat Nebraska 87-83 in overtime in their most recent game. The Tigers have won five straight games for the first time since 2003 and beat a ranked opponent for the first time this season.
Senior center Arthur Johnson, who had 29 points, made two free throws for the go-ahead points with 30.3 seconds left. After Johnson’s free throws, John Lucas’ 3-point attempt from the top of the key missed and a midcourt student celebration ensued.
When junior guard Jason Conley brought in the final rebound, Snyder said he experienced a feeling that had yet to accompany the other tight games.
“I don’t know what I said, but I know how I felt,” Snyder said. “I felt really good.”
Although Lucas scored a team-high 30, MU senior guard Rickey Paulding outdid him, scoring 31, including 19 in the first half. Senior forward Travon Bryant added 12 points.
The win brightens the Tigers’ dim NCAA Tournament hopes and pushes them into fourth place in the Big 12, one-half a game ahead of idle Colorado.
Because of Texas’ 82-67 win Monday night, the Cowboys (21-3, 11-2) are tied with the Longhorns for first.
Snyder said his team benefited from the experience of having tough losses.
“This is reminiscent of this year and our team really digging down,” Snyder said.
Gardner triumphs in final moments
Freshman guard Thomas Gardner, who started the season playing few minutes, saved the team from another disappointing loss.
The Cowboys appeared to have the game in hand late in the first overtime after Lucas made two free throws for an 82-79 lead. Gardner tied the game with a 3-pointer with 22.4 seconds left. The ball came to Gardner on the left wing because he had rebounded Conley’s missed 3-pointer from the right wing.
“I think it’s the biggest shot I ever made in college,” Gardner said. “It felt good, just like the first one.”
Gardner also had the final shot in regulation, but his 3-pointer from the left corner missed, and the teams went to overtime.
“(Thomas is) not short on confidence,” Snyder said. “What he is, is a competitor. If you’re a competitor, you see those things as opportunities. He had one at the end of regulation, but I wanted him to drive it. He showed me why he didn’t.”
The Cowboys erased a nine-point deficit with 3:06 left in regulation. The 9-0 run was capped with a Tony Allen basket with 1:31 left and tied the game at 71.
OSU gains last-ditch points
Johnson put the Tigers ahead with two free throws, but OSU senior forward Ivan McFarlin hit a layup with 9.3 seconds left to tie the game at 73. It appeared as if McFarlin had his first attempt blocked and then hit the ground without the ball leaving his hands. The referees did not whistle an up-and-down violation, and McFarlin scored on the follow.
Although the Cowboys overcame the Tigers’ advantage, sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney said the Tigers have a mental toughness they lacked earlier.
“Things are like we are really focused on what we want to accomplish and what we want to do,” McKinney said. “Everything is coming. We’re playing really together. Most of all, we’re playing defense collectively. That’s the bottom line, that’s the thing we have been missing.”
The Tigers took their biggest lead of the game, 45-32, with a crowd-energizing transition play. It started when Johnson blocked a Tony Allen driving layup. The ball went up the court and to Paulding on the left wing, who made a 3-pointer. Paulding finished 5-of-6 from 3-point range.
That 3-pointer capped a 17-6 run, which began with 7:35 left when Johnson had scored.
Paulding strong through regulation buzzer
Paulding scored the Tigers’ final two field goals of the half as well. His basket with 1:01 left gave the Tigers a 47-36 lead. Paulding hit a 3-pointer that allowed the Tigers to carry their momentum to the second half as well.
After Lucas made a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring, Paulding emphatically answered. With Cowboy guard Daniel Bobik in his face, Paulding made a 3-pointer from the left wing to extend the Tigers’ halftime lead to 50-39.
Lucas finished the first half with 18 points, and Paulding led all scorers with 19.
“This is a big win for us, something we’ve been working toward all year,” Gardner said. “Our chemistry is really starting to come together. We really executed the game plan that Coach Q wanted to use, defend, rebound and run. That’s something that really helping us continue on our streak.
“Two weeks ago, I think we might not have pulled this game through, but now as a team as a unit, we’re playing better collectively, feeding off each other. We really don’t care who takes the shot.
“It’s a whole unit, and it’s really helping us win.”