KANSAS CITY — Missouri fans showed up in force on Monday and it was almost enough to push the Tigers to an early season upset. Almost.
Led by All-Big Ten Conference point guard Drew Neitzel, Michigan State held on to beat Missouri 86-83 in the semifinals of the O’Reilly Auto Parts College Basketball Experience Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The 10th-ranked Spartans showed their class early, jumping to an early 22-10 lead. The Tigers fought back, cutting the lead to 24-18 with 12:47 left in the first half, but they fell short in the final seconds.
Neizel was everywhere for the Spartans early on and finished with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first half. That is despite sitting out much of the later part of the half with foul trouble. He became Michigan State’s go-to guy again in the second half though, and finished with 21.
Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team will face Missouri in today’s third-place game, had seen enough with 6:21 left in the first half. He stood up and left his seat in press row with an overflowing red file folder labeled “Missouri.”
He missed out.
On paper, Missouri was overmatched from the start. Missouri coach Mike Anderson is the only coach in the semifinals who had not coached a team to the Final Four. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Williams have also won national championships.
It was Anderson’s high tempo, upset-prone style of basketball that took over in the second half though. The Tigers fought back, slowly chipping away at Michigan State’s 51-41 halftime lead.
With what was essentially a Missouri home crowd cheering them on, the Tigers came within one point in the last minute when guard Stefhon Hannah scored an open three-pointer.
The Spartans inbounded to Neitzel who was fouled and made both shots with 2.4 seconds left. A last ditch shot from half court by Missouri guard Keon Lawrence barely missed the buzzer and the basket, sending Missouri to the third-place game.
If Monday was any indication, the Tigers should have another big home-court advantage tonight.
Empty grey seats were everywhere during No. 2 UCLA’s win against Maryland earlier in the night, but the brand new Sprint Center was nearly filled, with everybody on their feet and making lots of noise for Missouri’s introductions.
The volume reached its pinnacle after Missouri forward DeMarre Carroll made an open dunk in the second half to cut the lead to 67-62.
Missouri forward Marshall Brown came out big in the first half. After scoring three, zero and eight points in Missouri’s first three games, the senior forward came off the bench to score 11 points and grab five rebounds while also adding two big blocks in the first half. But in 15 minutes of playing time in the second half, he only scored 1 point and committed several costly turnovers down the stretch. Carroll scored all of his 14 points in the second half.
STEWART HONORED: Former Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart received a thunderous ovation when he was introduced during a second half timeout of the UCLA-Maryland game. Stewart, along with 11 other former college basketball coaches and players, were inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame at the College Basketball Experience on Sunday.