The Jayhawks came into Mizzou Arena Saturday and did something that no Tiger opponent had done all season: beat Missouri at home.
The No. 24 Tigers were a perfect 17-0 at home going into the Border War. But the No. 2 Jayhawks ended that run with a narrow 70-66 victory in Columbia.
The Tigers stayed in the game despite posting their worst shooting performance of conference play at 29 percent for the game. Three-point land was barren, as the Tigers shot just 13-percent from deep at 3-of-23.
Forcing turnovers and earning trips to the line kept Missouri in it. The Tigers were 29 of 35 from the charity stripe on 26 Jayhawk fouls. They also won the turnover battle 24 to 12, with 13 of those Kansas giveaways coming on steals.
Junior forward Laurence Bowers was a force on both ends of the floor, accounting for five of those Missouri steals and leading all scorers with 22 points. The lanky junior came off the bench and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds for his first double-double of conference play.
Bowers’ effort on the boards made little difference as Kansas controlled the glass all game. The Jayhawks outrebounded the Tigers 48 to 28, including 16 offensive rebounds yielding 12 second-chance points.
Junior forward Thomas Robinson dominated the paint for the visitors. The 240-pound big man finished with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Jayhawk junior forwards and twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris also put in work on the glass, grabbing 10 and eight rebounds respectively. Marcus led Kansas with 21 points.
Coach Mike Anderson saw his team lose the battle inside, especially in the second half.
“It seemed like all of a sudden they started hitting the paint,” Anderson said. “It was a five-rebound edge for them at halftime and that turned into 20. The war was won in the paint, and I thought in the second half they really stuck it to us there.”
Despite his team’s rebounding dominance, Marcus praised the work of Bowers and the Tiger big men.
“It was pretty evenly matched, I think we were a little bit quicker,” he said. “They did a real good job. Bowers did a really good job of continuing to move and get rebounds.”
While the Jayhawks controlled the paint, scoring nearly half of their points, 34, inside, the Tigers failed to establish an outside game. Junior guard Marcus Denmon finished with 19 points on just 4-of-12 shooting, and that was one of the better marks.
Sophomore guard Michael Dixon was 1-of-8, junior guard Kim English went 1-of-5, and freshman guard Phil Pressey shot 1-of-4. As for Kansas, the nation’s top shooting team was 44-percent for the game.
The Jayhawks jumped out to a seven point lead from the opening tip and never looked back. The Tigers recorded small runs to keep it close, trailing by no more than ten points during the first half.
Neither team shot well to start, and they were well on their way to the 51 total fouls. Nearly half of Missouri’s first half points came from the free throws. The story of the first half was the Tigers failing to turn Jayhawk turnovers into points on the other end.
The Tigers ended the half on an 11-2 run and a last-second tip-in from Bowers to make it 32-31 at the break.
It was more of the same in the second half. Kansas led by as many as 15 points but Missouri refused to go away. The Tigers cut the deficit to four with just over a minute left before Kansas senior guard Tyrel Reed iced the game with a corner three.
Reed recalls the play call from the timeout beforehand.
“We were in the huddle and I told coach I was going to knock it down,” Reed said. “He said ‘make the shot’, so I was happy about that.”
A long minute of free throw shooting later and the buzzer sounded on the 70-66 final.
Missouri falls to .500 in conference with the loss (8-8) and finish 22-9 overall. Kansas improves to 29-2 and 14-2 in Big 12 action to close out the regular season.
The Tigers have now dropped three straight after falling to Kansas State and Nebraska on the road last week. Next stop: the Big 12 Tournament starting Wednesday.
Bowers explained the plan for the postseason.
“Win,” he said. “Point blank. We can’t let it be a carryover. I thought we played with super energy tonight and did a lot of good things, but we also couldn’t make a shot. We have to go into Kansas City with the mindset that this could possibly be our last game.”