Gardner plucks Jayhawks

Thomas Gardner scored 40 points to lead the Tigers to a comeback
win against Kansas.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:52 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

With 75 seconds left, a win seemed improbable at best. With 0.4 seconds left it seemed impossible.

Nothing, however, seemed impossible for 40-point scorer Thomas Gardner on Monday.

With four-tenths of a second remaining, Christian Moody missed two free-throws at the end of a tied game to send it to overtime. After it reached that point, Missouri willed an 89-86 overtime win over rival Kansas at Mizzou Arena.

“Down the stretch, it was like a minute, we was down seven or something like that and we had the courage, we had the confidence and the belief in one another to come back and put it in overtime,” MU’s Jimmy McKinney said. “I knew once it went to overtime we would win.”

It was McKinney who, after scoring six in the final 1:01 of regulation, helping to bring Missouri (10-5, 3-1 Big 12 Conference) back from a seven-point deficit, found Moody open under the hoop and blocked the would-be winning dunk ­— only to have a foul called ­— and then watch the Kansas forward, a former walk-on and fellow senior, miss them both.

It was Thomas Gardner, though, who nearly left his coach speechless.

“Thomas Gardner, you know, what do you say?” Snyder asked after the junior guard poured it on the Jayhawks. “That’s one of those big-time games.”

It was the biggest, point-wise, of his career, and second best against Kansas (10-6, 1-2) by a Tiger ever. Anthony Peeler scored 43 in a 1992 loss to Kansas. Peeler was one of the at-capacity 15,061 in attendance, and addressed the team after the comeback win.

“He came in here,” Gardner said of Peeler. “He said he wanted to see me break his record, but I think it was sarcastic. I don’t really think he wanted me to break it.”

Gardner will take the win. He and Peeler might be the only two in the world who can call it just another game, but that’s exactly what Gardner did afterward.

“It was just one of those games,” Gardner said. “I didn’t expect to have a performance like this, but I just came out with a lot of energy, I got hot early, and my teammates did a great job finding me and running plays for me.

“Once you’re feeling it, it just feels good leaving your hands.”

A win seemed a likely outcome when Missouri led for much of the first-half, and it seemed likely

midway through the second, when the Tigers led by six. But a 13-0 Jayhawk run amid an eight-and-a-half minute MU field-goal drought put the Tigers behind, where it stayed, by as many as nine points in the final two minutes, until scoring first in the overtime.

After scoring 13 straight Missouri points to close the first half, Gardner again found his stroke late. His 3-pointer tied it with under five seconds to play, but the Tigers lost Moody at the other end until McKinney, who finished with 19, scrambled to save the day.

“I thought Jimmy made an incredible play to go try to contest that and block it even though they called a foul, or else he dunks,” Snyder said.

“If Jimmy doesn’t do that then we don’t go to overtime.”

Despite going up four early in the extra period, Missouri was unable to run away with it. Bound not to let the miraculous comeback become moot and behind by with a minute left, McKinney rebounded a Gardner miss, saved it from going out-of-bounds and sent it back to Gardner, who was fouled. Those two then combined to hit 4-of-6 free throws to close out the win.

“We didn’t have many things go right down the stretch, and give Mizzou credit,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

Snyder and company credited their heart.

“We just had an incredible, incredible heart at the end of the regulation, just to be down like that and not quit playing,” Snyder said.

Said Gardner: “Our team, they showed tremendous heart. We really believed towards the end of the game when we were down seven with about a minute-seven to go, we knew there was an opportunity to get back in the game.”

It was Gardner who was most opportunistic, making shots off-balanced and from one foot, inside and out. Eleven of his 40 came in the final minute of regulation and in overtime.

“Gardner was fabulous,” Self said. “That’s about as good a performance as I’ve seen.”

A performance that looked like it might be spoiled until the Tigers fought back with the passion only a Border Showdown game can bring out. There was no chance this squad would be flat for this game, even if it did come just 48 hours after its first conference loss.

“I don’t think we’re a great team,” Snyder said, “but we were great at times tonight, and this was a great game.”

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