LINCOLN, Neb. — As Missouri coach Quin Snyder left the Devaney Sports Center on Saturday after Missouri’s 56-53 win against Nebraska, he was met by an unfamiliar sound: applause.
A group of about 30 Missouri fans gathered in the hall outside the Tigers’ locker room. As Snyder emerged, the group did what it had waited the 45 minutes since the end of the game to do. It offered a wild cheering ovation.
The usually dapper coach, having traded his sweat-soaked dress shirt and suit jacket for a nylon workout suit, looked a little surprised. He gave a terse wave of acknowledgement and jogged toward the exit. As though on cue, the lights over the court dimmed with Snyder’s departure.
Theatrics are nothing novel for Snyder, but for the coach and Missouri (13-13, 5-7 Big 12 Conference), recognition certainly is.
“It feels great,” forward Linas Kleiza said. “It feels great to win anywhere. We need any win we can get right now.”
Things in college basketball can turn around fast when a team gets wins. Only two weeks ago, the Tigers were routinely booed at home and rumors suggested Snyder’s job was in serious jeopardy.
Now, the Tigers have won three in a row, tying their longest winning streak of the season, and fans are waiting around to congratulate the coach.
Does Snyder feel like the monkey is off his back?
“I’ve had gorillas stacked on my back,” Snyder said. “Two years now, I’m all right. They can hang out there. We just got to get stronger.”
The win against Nebraska was a big one for Missouri. It got the Tigers back to .500. It was also the team’s first victory on the road. Perhaps most importantly, it gave a struggling team a little confidence.
“Instead of thinking about what you’ve done recently, you have to think about what you have an opportunity to do,” Snyder said. “I even told them that in the last timeout. Jason (Horton) was upset about missing a free throw. Marshall (Brown) was upset about a ball going out of bounds. He thought it might have been our ball. I said ‘you want to talk about what we’ve done, or you want to talk about what we’re going do?’ I think that made a little sense to him.”
With four regular season games remaining, what Missouri has the opportunity to do is position itself for the Big 12 Tournament, which begins on March 10. At eighth in the Big 12, Missouri’s only real chance for an NCAA tournament appearance would be an unlikely run to the Big 12 Tournament championship.
That would not be easy. Four teams in the conference are ranked in the coaches’ Top 25. The Tigers would likely have to face at least two of them.
Missouri also has fatigue to worry about, not to mention hosting a Colorado team on Tuesday that bumped off the Tigers earlier in the year. The Buffaloes beat Missouri 64-62 on Jan. 26.
“It’s this time in the season,” Kleiza said. “When it comes down to the end of the season, it’s a lot of practice and a lot of games, you know, you lose your legs a little bit. But you’ve just got to go back in the gym, start lifting, whatever, and get ready for Colorado on Tuesday so we can keep this winning streak going.”