BUFFALO, N.Y. — After Missouri lost its rhythm the past few games, it took playing against a copycat opponent for the team to get it back.
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 10-seeded Tigers upset No. 7 seed Clemson 86-78 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.
With the victory, Missouri advances to take on No. 2-seeded West Virginia on Sunday.
“I thought the game was very in a rhythm for our basketball team,” coach Mike Anderson said. “The game was tied at half, but I thought we had the rhythm going to way we wanted.”
Lately, the rhythm for the Tigers has been a bad one.
In losing three of its last four games, Missouri couldn’t get it going offensively, and “The Fastest 40 Minutes of Basketball” seemed to have its motor stuck. But Friday afternoon against Clemson, that motor turned on and ran, ran, ran.
After getting behind early, Missouri started attacking the basket and racking up fastbreak points with regularity. Finishing with 22 fastbreak points, the Tigers shot 51.7 percent from the field — a far cry from percentages in the 30s they had been putting up in recent games.
“We were real hungry,” sophomore forward Laurence Bowers said. “We got embarrassed the last two games, Kansas and Nebraska. We don’t like having a bad taste in our mouth too long. It’s always refreshing with a win, but this was a win that was real big for us.”
Bowers put up 15 points as his counterpart in the starting frontcourt senior forward Keith Ramsey scored a team-high 20 points. Sophomore guard Kim English also scored 20 points.
English and Missouri were prepared to being run up and down the floor with the up-tempo Clemson team, but the Tigers of CU didn’t start out attacking the basket at first.
Staying away from the hoop early in the game, Clemson started on fire from beyond the arc. Hitting 7 of its first 9 from long distance, Clemson opened up a 28-19 advantage by the 8:55 mark in the first half.
Then Missouri started to click. Wreaking havoc on the defensive end, the Tigers used the steal-plus-fastbreak-plus-slam dunk/layup formula to close the gap within minutes.
When the two teams came out for the second half with the game tied at 39, the Tigers kept it going on all cylinders.
“[I]n the second half we really came out and just turned up the intensity,” Anderson said.
By that time, Clemson had lost its hot hand from beyond the arc and was consistently feeding the ball in the low post. An aggressive Missouri team answered whatever points Clemson got from that strategy with their own scoring.
Fighting to the basket, Missouri got to the free throw line with regularity and ended up taking 29 shots from the charity stripe, hitting 72.4 percent of them.
Still, Missouri couldn’t completely shake off Clemson as the minutes ticked away. Clemson closed the score to 82-78 with 39.8 seconds left, but Ramsey answered with a dunk on the ensuing Missouri possession, and Clemson didn’t score again.
For Missouri, it was a win that not only extended its season, but also helped ease the pain of some recent bad memories.
“The Nebraska loss really got us back in the right mindset of what we need to be doing if we want to be successful for the rest of the season,” senior guard J.T. Tiller said. “We used that as motivation last week in practice, and we just knew what we had to do to come in this game today.”