With all of its tumults and travails, devastating losses and unexpected but brief successes, Missouri’s season somewhat resembles a Shakespearian play.
Fitting then, that like Shakespeare’s Caesar, the Tigers’ final curtain should fall on the Ides of March.
Missouri lost to DePaul 75-70 at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday night in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament, ending Missouri’s dramatic season.
And what would any saga be without an anti-hero?
DePaul guard Drake Diener played the villain in the Tigers’ closing act.
Diener, whose cousin Travis Diener scored 26 against Missouri on March 22, 2003, to help Marquette eliminate the Tigers from the NCAA tournament, lived up to the family tradition on Tuesday, scoring a career-high 30 and shooting 7-of-11 from the 3-point line.
Before the game, Missouri coach Quin Snyder said he thought Diener was one of the best shooters in the country, on a par with Duke’s J.J. Reddick. Diener proved worthy of the praise.
“He was the most competitive player on the floor,” Snyder said. “He did what competitive players do. He found a way to win for his team.”
For all the long-range bombs Diener dropped on Missouri (16-17), the shot that hurt the Tigers most was his closest.
Missouri trailed DePaul 71-70 with 20 seconds left, and the shot clock running down on the Blue Devils (20-10), when DePaul forward Sammy Mejia drove toward the basket and launched an off-balance, running jump shot. The shot rattled around the rim as Tiger big men Linas Kleiza and Kevin Young jockeyed for position.
Seemingly out of nowhere, 6-foot-5 Diener reached up and tipped the ball home with his left hand, snatching the basket, the win and Missouri’s hopes of continuing its season.
“I joked with Drake after the game,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “In three years together, I couldn’t remember him getting one tip before this.”
Diener said he couldn’t remember one either, but the senior said he was willing to do about anything so that Tuesday’s game wouldn’t be his last.
“You think about that this could be your last game,” Diener said. “And you know if it’s going to be, you want to make the most of it.”
Diener got some help from senior classmate Quemont Greer, who earned All-Conference USA honors this season. Greer added a pair of free throws with seven seconds left. He finished with 17 points.
The loss dropped the Tigers to 1-8 all-time in the NIT. Prior to Tuesday, the Tigers had won six of their past nine. To qualify for the NIT, the Tigers had to beat Kansas and Nebraska in tough late-season games. They had endured everything from NCAA sanctions to conjecture about their coach’s firing.
The loss was not exactly the end the Tigers had envisioned after surviving a season’s hardships to make it to the NIT.
“You got to understand there’s a lot of people going through a lot of things here,” Missouri senior Jason Conley, who played in his last game, said. “Coach Q (Snyder) has had to go through some stuff. Our team has gone through some things. We’ve had young guys on our team who have had to grow. I think the guys on the team are not going to want to experience a season like this again. They are going to want to improve.”
When asked if Missouri’s season had been a tragedy or success based on its ending, Missouri senior Brian Dailey wouldn’t choose.
“It’s an ending,” Dailey said.