If there’s one word not to associate with the Big 12 this season, it’s "easy."
As in, no matter the opponent or where the game is played, nothing comes easy in the conference sitting at the top of the nation in conference RPI.
Take Missouri’s game against Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Cyclones came into Mizzou Arena with a 2-6 conference record and a depleted lineup. Only eight players were active for Iowa State, a team that has lost a player to an injury, a dismissal from the team and a defection to Germany to play professional basketball.
Despite having every excuse to wilt as the game went on, the Cyclones gave Missouri all it could handle for the majority of the game before the Tigers pulled away in the final minutes for a 65-56 victory at Mizzou Arena.
The final score belied how close a game it was. As late as 3:48 in the second half, Missouri clung to a one-point lead and held a single-point lead five times in the last 10 minutes.
“That’s the secret to winning on the road is pretty much to hang around and hang around and put the pressure on the home team,” senior guard J.T. Tiller said.
Despite being four games under .500 in conference coming into the game, Iowa State suffered only two of those losses by double-digit margins.
“This is a really good league,” sophomore guard Kim English said. “Their record doesn’t show how good they are.”
Neither team shot exceedingly well, with Missouri shooting 20 percent from beyond the arc. Missouri might not have scored any style points with the win.
“There’s no such thing as an ugly win, and I’ll take it,” coach Mike Anderson said.
As the game went on, it became clear Iowa State was not going to let Missouri walk away with things, at least until the last minutes of the game.
The Tigers took a 28-23 lead into halftime and never got into a groove offensively. Shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from beyond the arc, Missouri had no player score in double-digits.
It wasn’t until the last 10 minutes of the game the two teams started to score at consistent pace. As Iowa State pulled closer, baskets were traded at both ends of the court.
When Cyclone sophomore center Justin Hamilton put his team down one point with 9:04 left, the Tigers proceeded to show they would bend, but not break.
With the score staying tight during the next few minutes, English hit a 3-pointer with 1:44 left that gave Missouri a 59-53 lead. The Tigers had some breathing room and kept it the rest of the way.
“We just had to find that rhythm,” English said. “Finally we did the last 10 minutes. We kind of feel like that’s our time. We definitely stepped up and had a productive last four or five minutes of the game.”
Sophomore forward Laurence Bowers put up 10 points and a career-high 12 rebounds as two other Tigers scorers reached double digits: Tiller and junior forward Justin Safford.
With that late push, Missouri survived another Big 12 test and now prepare for another one with a trip to Baylor looming Saturday.
“You’ve got to win games like this here where," Anderson said. "For some odd reason the rhythm wasn’t there, the tempo wasn’t there for us. I thought when we had to, our defense had good rhythm.”