Missouri’s 73-64 upset against the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners meant perfection for the Tigers.
“Pefect,” senior forward DeMarre Carroll said, pausing to think it over. “That’s a great word. Being perfect, especially at home, it’s amazing. It’s one of those things that you dream about and you wish going into this season.”
The Tigers capped off the season Wednesday night 18-0 at home.
“It’s great to be able to beat a top five team,” junior guard J.T. Tiller said. “We got to send the seniors off right ending up undefeated at home. It’s a great feeling to actually have this feat.”
Coach Mike Anderson rewarded his four seniors by starting them all, and their emotions from the pregame ceremony provided a spark from the opening tip.
“I used the emotions to try to motivate me and fire me up. I’m not going to lose at home,” Carroll said. “It was more of a motivation emotionally than it was a sadness.”
Just as Anderson preached from day one, Missouri’s win came from tenacious defense. Oklahoma turned the ball over 22 times, while the Tigers only gave it away nine times.
“We couldn’t get control of the tempo tonight,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “They turned us over, spread us out. They had control of the game.”
Carroll and fellow senior forward Leo Lyons led the Tigers with 15 points, but their defensive effort is what won the game. The two were matched up against the Big 12’s leading scorer, Blake Griffin (21.9 points per game), and held him to 15 points and only five in the second half.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Tiller said of his teammates’ defense. “Blake is a great player, possibly the best player in the nation. To hold him to five points in the second half, that’s a great feat in itself.”
Fatigue seemed to play a factor on Griffin who struggled from the free throw line late, hitting two of seven on the night.
“We didn’t come out ready to play,” Griffin said. “They jumped on us. They had a lot more energy than we did. They got points off of turnovers, which is what they thrive on.”
Without Griffin’s typical dominating performance, the rest of the Sooners struggled to find their groove. Standout Oklahoma freshman guard Willie Warren shot three of 11 from the field, as did senior guard Austin Johnson.
“We worked on it all week to try and stop him one-on-one,” Lyons said. “Sometimes it was a double, sometimes it wasn’t. But us not giving him the double team like he’s seen all year just makes those other guys have to try and find something different to do.”
The Tigers, however, got exactly what they needed from their supporting cast. After the bench put up just six points against Kansas on Sunday, it came out and contributed 23 points Wednesday night.
“Our bench came in and did an awesome job,” Anderson said. “They gave us the energy we needed and also gave our starters a rest.”
Missouri will play its final regular season game Saturday at Texas A&M. After that, the Tigers will head to Oklahoma City for the Big 12 Tournament where they could meet the Sooners again, because with current seeding, Missouri would be No. 2 in the tournament and Oklahoma would be No. 3.
When Griffin was asked if he’d like another shot at the Tigers, his response was simple.