COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri public-address announcer began to scream as soon as the buzzer sounded and the Tigers had won the biggest basketball games of their lives.
Nobody inside Mizzou Arena could make out what he was saying. There was reverb in the microphone and the place was pandemonium and after a few seconds the PA guy’s voice broke as he seemed to completely lose his mind.
Missouri beat Kansas in what just might be — who knows? — the last KU-MU game played here. The Tigers leave for the SEC soon and they wanted — no, needed — this game as much as they’ve ever needed a game.
To allow Kansas to come into their place and win? Well, it might have been too much for the locals to take. Thanks to a great Missouri burst or a Kansas tank job — take your pick — Mizzou fans can hold their heads high.
Those heads were swirling with bad thoughts as Kansas, behind Thomas Robinson, dominated the second half. KU built a 71-63 lead with 3:17 to play thanks to a baseline drive and dunk by guard Tyshawn Taylor.
It looked like the Taylor-Robinson show was going to swipe this game and, in turn, drain the pride of Missouri fans from Cape Girardeau to St. Joseph.
But then KU stopped playing. Or at least stopped scoring. It was as if someone put up a detour sign at the KU basket. Missouri scored the final 11 points and senior guard Marcus Denmon, one of the finest players in the Big 12, assured his place near the top of Tigers lore with a 29-point performance.
Denmon hit 10 of 16 shots and was 6 of 9 from the three-point line. He scored the first nine points in that fatal, for KU, 11-0 Missouri run.
Meanwhile, when KU so desperately needed a shot to go in, the Jayhawks mostly failed to even get off shots.
Two charging fouls that will be debated through the summer, one on Robinson and the other on Taylor, were turnovers that led to Missouri points. Taylor, so good for 37 minutes, sent KU fans sprinting to the message boards with his play during the final three.
The most scrutinized Jayhawk in memory opened himself up to more scrutiny. There wasn’t just the charge, there was another Taylor turnover and two missed three throws.
Taylor scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, but that’s not what people are going to be talking about this morning. Or tomorrow morning. Or the morning after that.
But it’s unfair to blame this loss solely on Taylor. Nobody else lifted the Jayhawks down the stretch. It was a miserable final three minutes as KU’s five-game winning streak here came to an end.
“Tonight was our game to win,’’ said Kansas coach Bill Self, who watched his team botch a last-second attempt to send the game to overtime when guard Elijah Johnson forced up a three-pointer that had no chance. “We just didn’t get it done. Missouri made all the plays late.’’
KU’s Robinson made all the plays for a long stretch of the second half. Determined to feed the ball to their most dominant player in the second half, Robinson scored 19 of his 25 points after halftime. He also had a game-high 13 rebounds.
But his 7-foot buddy, Jeff Withey, who was supposed to help Robinson slay the smaller Tigers inside, failed to score and had four rebounds in 23 minutes. Withey took one shot as Self appeared to feel more comfortable with a smaller and quicker lineup that could better defend Missouri’s perimeter shooters.
Um, that didn’t work out so well. The Tigers were 10 of 22 from the three-point line. Denmon made back-to-back threes during a 34-second span that brought Mizzou from a 71-66 deficit to a 72-71 lead with 59 seconds to play.
KU had a chance to do something macho here. Coming into Mizzou Arena and kicking the Tigers’ tails as they were headed out the door to the SEC would have been a scene straight out of “Braveheart.”
And for such a long time, it looked like that was going to happen.
But this isn’t the kind of Missouri team to which we have become accustomed. New coach Frank Haith has made something happen with this team, which improved to 21-2 and moved into a first-place tie in the Big 12.
So you KU fans can question the Jayhawks’ late-game execution. You can take your shots at Taylor. You can wonder how official Don Daily could call those charging fouls against Robinson and Taylor.
But while you’re at it, and just to be fair, you should acknowledge that Missouri manned up. The machismo in this one belonged to the Tigers.