Victory boosts Tigers and MU fans

The Tigers solidify a shaky season with upset of Cowboys.
Thursday, February 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:12 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

When Missouri senior Travon Bryant hit the floor seconds after time expired in the Tigers’ blood-pressure surging win against Oklahoma State on Tuesday, he didn’t have time to think about what he and his teammates had accomplished.

The Missouri student section blitzed the Hearnes Center floor to celebrate the 93-92 double-overtime victory before he could piece together how much his team could profit from that one-point margin. After everything the black-and-gold devoted lived through at Hearnes this season, Bryant was glad they were there for the biggest celebration of the year.

“We definitely had somebody on our side tonight,” he said. “It’s definitely a good feeling, even though we’ve had so much heartbreak this year with close games.”

The fans knew, though.

They witnessed the tragedy of Belmont, a Syracuse comeback and the late letdown against then-No. 11 Texas.

They filled the stands for five sellout crowds, and Tuesday’s 13,233 count narrowly missed another packed house.

“Any time you have a game with that much emotion, it’s nice to see our students, who’ve been with us through thick and thin, and a lot of thin, have a chance to enjoy a win like that,” Snyder said. “We’ve tasted it a couple times here at home and not had it happen, so there’s a lot of emotion that got released when we got that rebound.”

Big board

In one swoop, Jason Conley’s rebound sealed the Tigers’ upset, muddled the Cowboys’ hold on first place in the Big 12 Conference and catapulted Missouri back into NCAA Tournament chatter.

After the Tigers had an 87-80 overtime loss to Gonzaga for their first defeat, nine points or less decided seven of their 10 losses. Snyder knew they would have more opportunities to pull out gritty games, but the latest euphoria in Hearnes wasn’t only deadline-relief.

“I was really proud of, not just the fact that we won, but the way that we won,” Snyder said. “We turned it over and they made some plays. For us to be able to come back after that, our team showed a lot of character and a lot of heart.”

Missouri’s method against the Cowboys triggered everyone’s memory. As the Tigers earned their fifth straight, the preseason predictions made sense for the first time since November.

The Tigers answered the Cowboys’ central test of guarding point guard John Lucas, who zipped through Missouri’s defense as though he were wearing wings, with everyone from fleet-footed freshman Thomas Gardner to Bryant.

Lucas flew to 30 points, but the Tigers held him to two points, both from the foul line, after regulation.

“I don’t know if we shut him down. He had 30,” Snyder said. “Thomas got stronger as the game went on. We did a better job of trying to stay with him.”

The Cowboys could not crack what the Tigers added to the equation in a razzle-dazzle game from seniors Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding.

Much of the Tigers’ early expectations fell on their shoulders, but Bryant said his fellow seniors picked the best time for resurgence.

“It’s big. Those are our two guns and we want to continue to go through them the whole time,” Bryant said. “People know that, but they continue to persevere and make big shots and make key plays.”

Cooler heads prevail

Going head-to-head with a Cowboys’ defense that allows its opponents 62.3 points and forces almost 17 turnovers a game, the Tigers handled the pressure unlike their previous close finishes.

Despite 16 turnovers, the Tigers didn’t fumble once in overtime.

They let a nine-point lead slip with three minutes left, but didn’t grow too tentative, and posted more points than the Cowboys have faced this year.

After team’s cut holes in the Tigers’ perimeter defense with 3-pointer daggers all season, they held the Cowboys, the second-best outside shooters in the league, to 33.3-percent 3-point shooting. Lucas shot all but two.

Chances are those fans were ready. They date calendars by the Tigers’ trademark finish-with-a-frenzy seasons.

A year ago today, Missouri upset then-No. 3 Oklahoma. Two seasons back on Feb. 25, the Tigers topped a 12th-ranked Cowboys’ squad.

Snyder said the territory is familiar, but the urgency behind the win isn’t a habit he wants to keep. It’s too late to erase the season’s pitfalls, but Snyder couldn’t help but say he knows what Tuesday night meant to Missouri’s March.

“Any time you have familiar ground, it’s something that you can use,” he said. “I’d like us to have a little better cushion than we do right now, but that’s behind us.

“I don’t want to make too much of it right now, but this obviously speaks for itself. We’ve got a ways to go, but a game like this can help you get there.”

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