When a star player says the game put him to sleep, it’s usually not pretty.
The Tigers defeated Baylor 60-53 on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but at this point, the Missouri men’s basketball team will take its wins any way it can get them.
Missouri (12-13, 4-7 Big 12 Conference) entered the game 11th in the Big 12. Baylor (9-13, 1-10 Big 12) is last. Each team looked as though deserved its standing on Wednesday, and Missouri players made it no secret that they had trouble maintaining focus.
“It was one of those games where the other team made the game so boring,” Missouri forward Linas Kleiza said. “They made the game so slow. They played zone all game. It put us to sleep.”
The Tigers made it interesting late, in spite of themselves, with several key turnovers and defensive breakdowns, but ultimately Baylor was just the less coordinated team. The Bears committed 14 turnovers, including three in the final two minutes as Baylor attempted to comeback from what was once an 11-point Missouri lead.
Missouri also committed its share of mistakes, several coming at key moments.
With 13:16 left, senior guard Jason Conley shoveled a pass directly into the hands of Baylor forward Mark Shepherd starting a Bears’ fastbreak. Missouri also allowed the Bears to pull down four offensive rebounds on another second half possession.
“You can’t give a team four cracks at it,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “We shoot 25 percent from three. We can even make one of four. So, if you give them four shots at it they’re going to make one.”
Missouri pulled ahead early practically by default, as Baylor seemed unable to finish any shot at all. The crowd of 8,224 cackled when Baylor junior Tommy Swanson missed a wide-open dunk, bouncing the ball off the back of the rim two minutes into the game. It was about the most noise the crowd made all night. When a 6-foot-10 center misses a dunk like that, it’s usually a long game.
“I bet all the fans were bored,” Kleiza said. “Because I was bored on the court.”
The Tigers’ main advantage was that their big men finished baskets slightly better than Swanson. The Tigers went on a 13-2 run midway through the first half. They went on an 18-5 run in the second. Both big runs were thanks to the interior contributions of Kleiza and center Kevin Young.
Kleiza finished with 9 points. Young had career-highs in scoring and rebounding, with 11 points and 9 rebounds.
Even freshman center Kalen Grimes got in on Missouri’s inside scoring domination, though he had to do a little extra work to contribute. Grimes received a pass and found himself trapped in a triple team on the baseline near the Baylor basket. With no other recourse, Grimes dropped his head and started dribbling. Miraculously, the Baylor defenders fell away as Grimes bulled toward the basket for a one-handed dunk.
“I just wanted to have some intensity,” Grimes said. “We have to keep our intensity up. We didn’t tonight. When we pick it up, we’re a great team. When we don’t we’re a mediocre team. It’s as simple as that.”
Snyder was so desperate to find a player with intensity he tapped energetic but rarely used guard Brian Dailey to play two minutes in the second half.
“We’re not a top ten team,” Snyder said. “We are what we are. We should recognize that. The things we have to do to get the lead are the things we have to continue to do. We lose sight of who we are at times when we get ahead.”