COLUMBIA - All season long Missouri’s basketball team has tried to win over its own fans. How ironic that all the Tigers needed to do was throw a six-pack of scholarship players and chip in two walk-ons.
With suspended players Leo Lyons, Jason Horton, Marshall Brown and Darryl Butterfield in street clothes on the bench and Stefhon Hannah nursing his broken jaw in Chicago, a full student section came to Mizzou Arena to see if eight remaining players were enough to defeat Nebraska.
With one minute, 21 seconds left in the first half, the Tigers trailed by nine points.
But seven unanswered points in the final 80 seconds pulled Mizzou within 32-30 at the break and a middling crowed out to their feet with a collective roar.
Sure, the most noise in the first half was showered upon Missouri’s Cotton Bowl champion football team, the love of this campus’ life after finishing 12-2 and No. 4 in the nation, including beating Kansas for the Big 12 North title in Arrowhead Stadium.
The cheers spiked as Coach Gary Pinkel hoisted the Cotton Bowl trophy over his head and bowl defensive MVP William Moore and bowl offensive MVP Tony Temple showed off their trophies.
But there was no lack of support - for one of the first times in a 12-8 season - for the hoops Tigers.
Everybody loves an underdog, which despite Nebraska coming in 0-4 in the Big 12 the Tigers became early Sunday morning when the suspended players earned their penalty by ignoring Coach Mike Anderson’s midnight curfew.
And there was a lot of love, hope and deportation thrown at the eight men out there on Norm Stewart Court.
J.T. Tiller, a reserve guard high on energy, drove his way to 10 points in the first half. DeMarre Carroll scored seven points and ripped down nine rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
Nebraska’s 6-11, 275-pound center dominated as expected. He score 11 points and ripped down 10 rebounds.
But the Cornhuskers helped make this a close game at the half, launching 16 threes and hitting only six when going inside every time down.