Heart has been widely discussed among the Missouri basketball players during the past week.
After the Tigers lost consecutive games to Davidson, Creighton and Houston, Missouri coach Quin Snyder said the losses had as much to do with lack of effort as lack of ability.
Thanks to a 59-55 win against Murray State at Mizzou Arena on Sunday, the Tigers’ heart is beating again.
The lead exchanged hands eight times and the Tigers had trailed by as many as 7, but Missouri came alive at the end, outscoring the Racers 12-7 in the last five minutes.
“We had a whole bunch of chances to put the game away,” said senior guard Jason Conley, who had 11 points. “I don’t think we did at certain times, but when it came down to it we fought back.”
The Tigers (3-3) did not look sharp. They shot 44.7 percent from the field, made nine-of-23 free throws and turned the ball over 17 times. Playing with heart, though, helped Missouri win.
As they left the huddle after a timeout in the second half, the Tigers used a new cheer to reaffirm its commitment.
“We usually say ‘win’ or ‘Tigers’ or ‘defense,’ but we just said ‘heart,’” Conley said. “It was just a word that we all knew. We knew that in order to win this game we got to have heart and that’s what we did.”
With 5:50 left, the Tigers chances for the win looked slim. Missouri’s sophomore forward Linas Kliza accidentally tipped in a shot by Murray State’s Charles Johnson to tie at 46. The Racers (2-1) had been beating Missouri on the boards, pulling down offensive rebounds and scoring on second-chance shots on three consecutive plays.
On the next possession, Conley drove the length of the court and elevated in traffic to dunk over Murray State guard Trey Pearson. Conley also drew a foul and made the free throw to complete the 3-point play.
“You see Jason Conley just kind of put his foot down and say ‘you know what, I’m not letting this happen,’” Snyder said. “That was the talk that our guys had in the huddle. I’m glad we were rewarded for our perseverance through that game.”
Conley’s play revitalized the Tigers. Junior guard Jimmy McKinney scored 10 points in the final five minutes, after failing to make a field goal for the first 15 minutes. McKinney led Missouri with 12.
“I just had confidence,” McKinney said. “I had open shots. I had good looks, so I just stepped up and shot them and they fell for me.”
Throughout the losing streak, Snyder had tried to put a positive spin on the trials Missouri was facing, but he was visibly relieved to gain the win Sunday.
“It’s painful to lose, but sometimes you have to experience how bad that feels in order to hang on as tight as you need to,” Snyder said. “I feel like I’ve broke my hands beating the floor to try and get it, and our team needs to start to see that.”