On the afternoon of Dec. 10, Missouri coach Frank Haith became 9-0 following his team’s 25-point smothering of Navy and, afterward, he recalled a line from Rick Barnes, his mentor as an assistant at Texas.
“Proud peacocks today,” Haith said. “Feather dusters tomorrow.”
In the same minutes that he said it, Christian Watford let fly a prayer from the left elbow of the arc inside Assembly Hall at the wail of the buzzer. Crimson-clad students blitzed the floor as unranked Indiana busted then-and-current No. 1 Kentucky.
“Our guys understand that it could come down on us at any time,” Haith said.
The Tigers (18-2, 5-2 Big 12 Conference) brought the disciplined and levelheaded attitude they’ve carried throughout their whole season when they met Oklahoma State on Wednesday in Stillwater, Okla. The city has been unfriendly territory for ranked Missouri teams, having lost in all but one meeting since 1997.
Even after downing then-No. 3 Baylor and earning their decade-best No. 2 ranking, the Tigers returned to practice at Mizzou Arena and began critical study of their next opponent, as has been the custom on their thrilling, doubter-converting rise.
“Respect every team you play against,” said senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe, the national player of the week. “There (are) no cupcakes in the Big 12, so we’re going to prepare for Oklahoma State just like we did Baylor even though it doesn’t say Oklahoma State, No. 3. We’re still going to practice just as hard.”
Sure, Haith couldn’t help but crease a smile when he was reminded that he, having never been the head coach of a top 10 team, was the man behind the land’s No. 2 team. It took less time than a fist would have to pump before he returned to his business self and replaced a smile with a familiarly serious, determined face.
“(There are) a lot of people patting you on the back and then you get sore shoulders from that,” Haith said. “We will get Oklahoma State’s very, very best effort, as we will every night we lace ‘em up. That comes along with the territory of having some national recognition.”
And sure enough, a young and fiery Cowboys team with a sub-.500 record went toe-to-toe with the seasoned Tigers. By the end, OSU freshman guard Le’Bryan Nash had a career-high 27 points to his squad’s 79-72 win. He chucked the ball toward the rafters. Fans in orange flooded the court.
Missouri led 55-47 entering the game’s final 13 minutes before being out-jousted in a 32-17 OSU scoring run. Ratliffe led the Tigers with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Senior guard Marcus Denmon added 17 on 4-of-16 shooting.
“We didn’t play the way we normally play, in terms of being active and aggressive and going after loose balls,” Haith said after the game. “I think there were so many of those when we had the ball in our hands and they got it.”
Missouri will face Texas Tech on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“No one big win or one tough loss is going to define us,” Haith said in-between the Baylor win and OSU loss, between the time as “proud peacocks” and “feather-dusters.”