At the beginning of the Missouri men’s basketball team’s intro video, senior forward Leo Lyons looks straight into the camera and asks Mizzou Arena fans, “Are you ready?”
Perhaps more than any other game in Mizzou Arena’s five-season history, Missouri fans were ready for the No. 17 Tigers’ date with No. 16 Kansas.
All day Monday, there was a buzz around campus about a basketball team that was beginning to make waves on the national scene, waves that were vindicated by Missouri’s return to the Top 25 upon the release of The Associated Press poll that afternoon.
In the first half, the crowd appeared ready, but the players did not. Missouri struggled mightily from the field in the first half, trailing Kansas 30-16 at the break. The Tigers, who entered the game averaging 84.2 points per game, were on pace to score merely 32.
But the Tigers fought for a 62-60 comeback victory in front of a sold out Mizzou Arena crowd as Zaire Taylor’s game winning jumper with 1.3 seconds remaining set off a celebration that can best be described as seismic.
Missouri radio play-by-play announcer Mike Kelly is now in his 19th season calling Missouri games. Monday’s game against Kansas was his first game back since having surgery to remove part of his colon as a result of diverticulitis.
“The crowd was absolutely unbelievable,” Kelly said. “This was the best that Mizzou Arena has ever been in terms of not only the volume, but the intensity and the way the crowd was ‘with it’ really for almost the entire game.”
During his tenure as Missouri’s radio voice, Kelly has developed of a formula of what Missouri teams must do to earn the respect of the fans.
“They want their teams, no matter what sport it is, to play as hard on the court as they have to work each and every day to earn the right to be there as fans,” Kelly said. “This team has earned that blue-collar type of respect that fans want to see.”
The love between the players and fans was most evident at the game’s end as the players ran into the student section to celebrate. The celebration then spilled onto the court, as the players then jumped on chairs to led the crowd in an “M-I-Z, Z-O-U” chant.
“It was a great Missouri win,” said Gary Link, color radio announcer in his 13th year calling Missouri games. “I mean for the players, the broadcasters, the fans, the students, the alumni, it was a great Missouri win.”
It was a win that, despite all the superlatives that could be placed on it, was best described by Link as “entertaining.”
“What coach (Mike) Anderson always says is, ‘We’re going to play an exciting brand of basketball. We want people to come in here and be entertained,'” Link said. “They were definitely entertained tonight.”