LAWRENCE, Kan. — Saying that toughness is a valuable quality in sports is obvious. But sometimes, the obvious needs to be emphasized.
Coming off three losses to start the Big 12 season, Missouri needed to prove to itself, its fans and the rest of the conference that it is tough. Difficult home losses to Iowa State and Kansas State, plus an embarrassing rout at Texas caused some question just how tough the Tigers are.
“We gotta learn to be tough on the road,” Marshall Brown said after Wednesday’s game at Texas.
That lesson, however, had to be learned quickly. Allen Fieldhouse is no place for scared players and Kansas is no opponent for a pensive team. Tigers coach Mike Anderson acknowledged his team may not have been in the best mental state before its game in Lawrence.
“They can be fragile, no question about it,” Anderson said.
But any fragility or lack of toughness wasn’t apparent against the Jayhawks. Each time the Jayhawks went on a run, the Tigers didn’t allow them to run away with the game. Twice, Kansas took eight point leads, once in each half. And each time, Missouri answered. Sometimes with a 3-pointer, sometimes with consecutive baskets. Regardless, the answers always seemed to come.
Like the K-State game on Saturday, the Tigers were in foul trouble. Stefhon Hannah committed his fourth foul with 7:25 left and the Tigers leading by four points, leaving Missouri to try to finish off an upset of No. 5 Kansas without its leading scorer.
Finishing games however, is something Missouri hasn’t quite learned.
The Tigers lost 80-77 to Kansas, dropping their fourth straight game to start the conference season. Matt Lawrence, who led the Tigers with 19 points, missed an off-balance 3-pointer with two seconds left to seal the loss.
But it’s what happened in the last few minutes that will be remembered, not the last play. After Sherron Collins made a 3-pointer to give the Jayhawks (16-2, 3-0 Big 12) a four-point lead, Lawrence converted a 3-point play to pull Missouri (11-6, 0-4 Big 12) within one.
A minute later, with the 16,000-plus fans as loud as they were all night, Marshall Brown made two free throws to bring Missouri to within a point.
That, however, was as close as the Tigers would get. They eventually lost by three, but they proved something. The wins may not quite be coming yet, but the toughness was there.