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Friday, October 24, 2014

101 smiles: Missouri senior class sets record

Four-year seniors English, Denmon, Moore and Sutton set the program record for wins Wednesday.

Feb. 17, 2012

As players addressed the media following former coach Mike Anderson's departure for the University of Arkansas last year, then-junior forward Kim English addressed how the team would cope without its former head man.

His idea was simple.

"Reconcile by winning," English said that day.

English and the Tigers have done just that, shocking everyone but themselves during a season in which they currently have a No. 3 ranking in the national polls and are in position to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Their 83-65 shellacking of Oklahoma State on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena improved the Tigers to 24-2 on the season, giving the four-year seniors (English, guards Marcus Denmon and Jarrett Sutton and forward Steve Moore) the 101st win of their MU careers, a program record.

English downplayed the significance of the win record.

"It means we've won a fair amount of games, but again, those are process goals, and we're stuck in the process," English said. "We'll get some accolades if you consume yourself in getting better every single day, so I guess that's just a testament of us getting lost in preparation every week."

With the game well at hand for most of the second half, coach Frank Haith was able to empty his bench, giving playing time to all eligible seniors.

After the game mercifully ended, Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford disclosed that he told his team to "Move on, get out of here and forget about this game" before the final seconds had ticked off the clock.

Doubt prevailed before the season began, thanks in large part to power forward Laurence Bowers' season-ending torn ACL and coach Haith's mediocre tenure at Miami. Not many thought the Tigers, ranked No. 25 in the preseason, would blow out any conference opponents, let alone amass at least 24 wins.

The Tigers have gotten to where they are now through individual sacrifice and learning from their mistakes. Nobody has sacrificed more than English, who has been playing out-of-position at Bowers' forward spot all year.

"Kimmie's done a tremendous job," Haith said. "I don't know if we really give him credit for what he's done all year defensively, the sacrifices he's made as a player… he thinks of himself as a two-guard in the NBA, now he's guarding guys five, six inches taller than him and he's battling them every single night."

English's evolution had never been more apparent than it was Wednesday night. In their matchup in Stillwater, Okla., Cowboy freshman Le'Bryan Nash dominated, scoring 27 points in the upset. In Wednesday's rematch, English clamped down on Nash, limiting him to just 11 points.

The team's renewed defensive effort against Oklahoma State encapsulated the steps it has taken to learn from past mistakes this season.

"If you look at some of the games we had after that, we've had some late-game opportunities and we played very well," Haith said. "We've grown in late games, in terms of executing, in terms of getting the ball to free throw shooters, getting the ball inbounds, being solid and not forcing the action."

For now, the single winningest class in program history sits at 101 wins. Only time will tell how many more it can garner.

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