Defense sparked offense. Noise broke through silence. Hugs replaced heartache.
Finally there were some smiles.
Finally some relief.
Finally some confidence.
Finally a win.
Missouri beat No. 16 Oklahoma 68-65 in overtime Saturday, initiating a celebration among the Tigers and several hundred fans who stormed Norm Stewart Court.
It was the Tigers’ first win in almost a month. Missouri (11-13, 3-7 Big 12 Conference) had lost five straight and eight of nine.
The Sooners (17-6, 6-4) are on a three-game skid.
“I think it’s something our kids have to feel,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “I asked them after the game, ‘How do you feel? Do you like this feeling? Because it’s a whole lot better.’”
Despite the elation, Missouri almost found a way to let another game slip away as a result of poor free-throw shooting in overtime.
“You know we’re going to make it interesting,” Snyder said.
With 1:17 left in overtime, Kevin Young had a chance to complete a 3-point play to give Missouri a 3-point lead. He missed the free throw.
After the Tigers held firm on defense, Jimmy McKinney was fouled on the inbounds pass. He made the first and missed the second, but Linas Kleiza secured the rebound with 38 seconds left.
Missouri’s Jason Horton was fouled next. He missed the first of a 1-and-1, and once again, Kleiza came to the rescue with a rebound.
Kleiza, who finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds, walked to the line with 16 seconds left and was short on both free throws.
Any of these free throws would have all but secured the win for Missouri, but instead it gave the Sooners a chance to tie.
Oklahoma’s Lawrence McKenzie took a long 3-pointer with Jimmy McKinney in his face, and Young grabbed the rebound as time expired.
“We certainly had a chance to win this one,” Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Missouri’s kids really competed hard in the second half. We made too many mistakes. Couldn’t get rebounds, loose balls, things that you’ve got to do to win games.
“This is kind of a gut punch.”
Missouri got a punch of its own from Snyder, who said he called his team to the mat at halftime.
The Tigers were outrebounded 20-11 in the first half, including 9-5 on the offensive glass, and trailed 37-26.
“He basically said, ‘Are we men?’” Young said. “He questioned our manhood, and I think we showed him.”
Missouri ended up winning the rebound margin 35-30, outrebounding the Sooners 24-10 in the second half. Half of the Tigers second-half rebounds were offensive.
“That was one of the biggest keys to the game, not allowing them to get second shots,” Young said.
In addition to securing rebounds, Missouri was more intense on defense in the second half. Add in the uncharacteristic urging of public address announcer Randy Wright and the 10,765 fans, and the Tigers chipped away at Oklahoma’s 11-point halftime lead.
“Tigers within five,” Wright said as Horton scored on a fast-break layup after a Thomas Gardner steal.
“Tigers within three,” Wright said as McKinney stole the ball from Jaison Williams and scored on a fast-break dunk.
After the dunk, Oklahoma called a timeout, and as McKinney came to the bench, Snyder greeted him with a chest bump and a hug.
“Jimmy’s been through so much,” Snyder said. “I wanted it so bad for him. He was playing with energy, and I wanted to celebrate and enjoy it with him.”
The gesture didn’t elude McKinney.
“That just shows you how bad he wanted it for us,” McKinney said. “Even though he can’t come out and play, he wanted it so bad for us.”
The Sooners’ attempt to regroup during the timeout didn’t work, and Missouri kept coming.
“Tigers within one,” Wright said as Kleiza scored a reverse layup.
“Tigers lead by one,” Wright said as Gardner drove and scored.
During this 10-minute stretch, Oklahoma scored three, and most of Missouri’s points came off turnovers.
“That’s been the answer for us. We have to maintain a commitment to guarding, and we end up generating some offense,” Snyder said. “When we get some easy baskets, it makes the whole game a lot easier.”
The Sooners responded to Missouri’s rally with an 11-0 run, giving them a 55-45 lead with five minutes left.
But the Tigers weren’t done. They kept getting easy baskets, but more importantly, they got stops when it mattered. With 55 seconds left, Gardner hit a 3-pointer that tied the game at 59 and eventually sent it to overtime.
Missouri had a chance to win at the end of regulation. Conley took an off-balance jumper in the middle of the lane, which caromed off the rim and Kleiza tried to tip it in. That too missed, and Kleiza attempted another shot in the lane as he fell to the ground.
“When you play so hard, and you put your all in to something, and you just come out on top, it just feels great and that’s how we played tonight,” Conley said.
After starting the game 5-of-5 from the field, Missouri’s 11-5 lead became a 21-13 deficit. It missed its next 10 shots and didn’t make a 3-pointer until 37 seconds remained in the first half.
On the other end, Oklahoma’s inside duo of Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray proved problematic. Bookout scored Oklahoma’s first seven, and Gray scored the next seven.
Bookout made little impact the rest of the game. He finished with one point in the second half.
Gray had 19 points and nine rebounds.
“This is one of the biggest (wins) we’ve had all year,” Young said. “I know Gonzaga was a big one, but this is big. This is really, really, really big. I don’t know how else to describe it.”