COLUMBIA — An afternoon game, the end of the college football regular season and a quality opponent might have helped the Missouri men’s basketball team on Saturday.
But perhaps it was a veteran teammate that helped the most.
With the Purdue Boilermakers in Columbia, the Tigers drew 7,699 fans to Mizzou Arena, the largest crowd of the season. The crowd grew loud in the second half and helped pave the way for a 73-63 victory.
But after the game, Tiger players weren’t talking as much about the crowd noise as they were about some vocal motivation from senior forward Marshall Brown.
After trailing 44-36 at the half, the Boilermakers went on a 23-5 run to take a 59-49 lead with 7:40 remaining in the game. It was at this point, during a timeout, that players said Brown provided everyone with a harsh realization of what was happening on the court. Brown wasn’t available for comment after the game, but guard Keon Lawrence said the gist of his speech was that the Tigers were being selfish and not playing team basketball.
Lawrence said it wasn’t what Brown was saying, but the emotion that was in his voice while saying it.
“My body’s still heated up from him saying that,” Lawrence said after the game.
Senior guard Jason Horton said that Brown got some tears in his eyes as he demanded that the Tigers pick up their play in the second half. From that point, the Tigers went on 24-4 run, and two of those Boilermaker points came on a lay-up by E’Twaun Moore with 11 seconds to play — after the victory had been secured.
The catch to all of this is that Brown only played three minutes in the game, none of those minutes came in the second half.
“It shows how much of a team player he is,” Lawrence said. “He’s a senior and he just wants to win.”
Every player who came out to talk to the media after the game called Brown the captain of this year’s team, and Horton, who is in his fourth season playing with Brown, explained why that is.
“He just always does the right thing,” Horton said. “He’s always on time, he works hard and he says the right thing. And that’s all the qualities that you have in a captain. He’s one of those guys, on and off the court.”
As MU began to chip away at Purdue’s lead, the noise from the season’s largest crowd began to crescendo. With each basket and each defensive stop, another Tiger fan rose to their feet.
The biggest change in the crowd from the other home games this season was the student section. The large, bleachered section reserved for students at the west end of Mizzou Arena had been half full, at best, before this game. On Saturday it was packed with gold-clad students; many of whom were attending their first basketball game of the school year.
Patrick Ashby, an MU sophomore, was one of those first-time patrons. He said that his attendance to this game was because the Tigers were playing an opponent from the Big Ten, as opposed to a team like Southern which is from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Ashby also said that he was focused on the MU football team and has now switched his attention the the basketball team after the conclusion of the college football regular season.
“I just don’t think there’s any excitement (in those games against smaller schools),” Ashby said. “This game, it’s on national TV (ESPN2). Even if there was a good opponent on football Saturday, I doubt I would come (to the basketball game).”
Horton was pleased with the student support.
“I’m always happy to see our students show up and be into the game,” Horton said. “It was good to give the other team a taste of what we’ve been getting on the road.”
The Tigers had large crowds cheering them on in their two games in the College Basketball Experience Classic in Kansas City. In those games, against Michigan State and Maryland, MU fed off the big crowds and played well, losing to Michigan State by three and beating Maryland by 14.
“We play with a lot of energy,” Horton said. “And when the crowd’s into it, it brings our energy to another level.”