BOISE, Idaho -- The six minutes freshman guard Kim English played in the first half against Marquette on Sunday might have been the best of his life, but the 13 consecutive points he scored for Missouri were nothing compared to his final two.
With 19 seconds left in the game, Missouri came from a time out with the score tied at 79. Junior guard J.T. Tiller took the ball hard to the basket and drew a foul on his layup attempt.
As the ball rolled out of the rim, Tiller lay still on the ground. The veteran re-injured his hand and could not shoot the potential game-winning free throws.
“One team, one goal. That’s our motto,” Tiller said. “So anybody, whether it’s me shooting or Kimmie shooting it to win the game, it all doesn’t matter because at the end of the day I just want to come out with a win.”
Coach Mike Anderson turned to the bench and saw two freshmen auditioning for the job.
“Kim English, he just gave me that look. Not only him, I thought Marcus (Denmon) was the same way,” Anderson said. “And sometimes you just have that feeling. And he went up because he shot the ball well.”
The freshman came off the bench with 5.5 seconds left in the game and a trip to Missouri’s first Sweet 16 since 2002 on the line.
“There weren’t any nerves,” English said. “I knew what I had to do. I knew the job I had and coach had the faith in me to do it, so I went in and knocked it down.”
From there, the perennial madness of March came into place. With the score 81-79 Marquette had 5.5 seconds to make a miracle happen, but junior forward Lazar Hayward stepped over the line on the inbounds pass, resulting in a turnover.
Senior forward Leo Lyons was immediately fouled when Missouri regained possession, and he too sank both his free throws to put Missouri up by four and seal the victory.
The wild finish didn’t seem likely at halftime as Missouri led 46-35 and has been known as a second-half team all season.
The Tigers got off to another shaky start, and found themselves in a quick 6-0 deficit. Missouri began to fight back, but Marquette had the edge early and opened up a 17-11 lead.
That’s when Anderson turned to his bench. The subs came into the game with the confidence and energy that Missouri’s starters had lacked. With English leading the way, Missouri went on an 11-0 run.
“It was remarkable, and we have been winning this season because of our bench,” senior guard Matt Lawrence said. “And Kim English comes in like that and it just sparks all the rest of us. And then you see the starters go back in and pick it up another level.”
Missouri had Marquette playing its style basketball midway through the second half. The Tigers forced Marquette to turn the ball over 10 times, and rode that 46-35 lead into the locker room.
But the Golden Eagles weren’t ready to back down. Behind the outstanding performance senior guard Jerel McNeal, who led the Golden Eagles with 30 points, Marquette chipped away at Missouri in the second half until taking the lead with five minutes left in the contest.
“They would not go away,” Anderson said. “They been there before and you could tell the experience of their own basketball team.”
It looked like Missouri was going to let the season slip away when it fell behind by four with two minutes left.
And while no player on Missouri other than Mike Anderson Jr. had NCAA Tournament experience, junior guard Zaire Taylor reminded his teammates that they had been in that situation before.
“When he said that, we just thought about where we came from, I know I did,” senior forward Leo Lyons said. “I thought about all the up and downs we have been through and all the hard work that we put in. And you forget about being tired and all you got to do is bring you team in together and everybody will do anything and go above the limits to get a stop.”
Missouri’s defense prevailed, denying Marquette of any good opportunities in the final two minutes. The Tigers finished the game on a 7-1 run, sending them to Glendale, Ariz., to face the No. 2 Memphis Tigers on Thursday.
“It’s confidence,” Taylor said. “You got to believe you can do it if you want to do it. That’s the secret to life.”