Missouri coach Mike Anderson got his wish.
Before the season, Anderson said his team was going to be energized by the fans, saying its style of play needed the crowd to be loud and energetic. But, through seven regular season home games, Missouri drew an average of only 6,027 fans per game. Earlier this week, Tigers guard Matt Lawrence said he was expecting more fans to show up and be loud.
“Hopefully our fans acknowledge the significance of this game for our new coaching staff and our basketball team,” Lawrence said on Wednesday. “We’re undefeated, so hopefully they come out and support us. I hope they do.”
But, it looked like any hopes for a loud crowd were dashed Thursday afternoon. The first snowstorm of the season iced up roads and made life difficult for any pedestrian with wind, snow and freezing rain blowing in their faces. Those two factors seemed to doom the Tigers to another small home crowd. Most of the students who come to games walk, while many Missouri fans are spread around the state and need to drive to Columbia.
Because of the weather, there were only 5,428 at Mizzou Arena on Thursday. That crowd total looks like it would fit in with the other attendance figures this season. But there were two noticeable differences.
After the first TV timeout with 15:10 remaining, all the fans in the upper deck were invited to sit in the lower deck. While there were a few stragglers who stayed up high, the upper level was mostly empty. The migration caused the odd sight of section after section of empty black seats. But, it also made the arena’s lower bowl more crowded and kept some of the cheers from getting lost in the upper reaches of the arena.
But, undoubtedly, the biggest source of energy in the arena was the student section. For most of the season, the most visible sign in the section was the M painted under the bleachers. Despite the poor weather conditions, the student section was the most crowded it has been all season. It also was the loudest.
Each call against Missouri, even the ones that weren’t debatable, was greeted with loud jeering and booing. But, when Missouri was establishing control of the game in the first half, the students were their loudest. Cheers that hadn’t been heard this season were loud. The Missouri players also looked to be enjoying the support of the students, raising their arms with their palms up towards the students, egging them on for more noise.
“It sounded like a crowd that had our back all game,” guard Keon Matt Lawrence said.
The other Lawrence agreed.
“I think the student section got all the way to the top and I didn’t see that for awhile,” Matt Lawrence said. “They were loud too. It felt like there were 15,000 (fans).”
But one fan that was expected to be at Mizzou Arena didn’t show up.
Because of the weather, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson didn’t drive from his home in Fayetville, Ark., to see the game. Richardson said earlier that he was going to cheer for Anderson, his former assistant, instead of Arkansas, the school Anderson coached for 17 seasons.