LAWRENCE, KAN. — There were 8.3 seconds remaining of the ancient Border Showdown inside Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, and it was up to visiting Missouri to decide how the final chapter would be told.
Down by a sole point in overtime, coach Frank Haith had made the call inside his huddle during a timeout. Senior guard Marcus Denmon would simply take the ball from handoff, come off a ball screen and create. He was to do what he had done all evening in his 28-point pursuit; do what he had done earlier in the month by drilling nine straight points and erasing any Jayhawk threat in Columbia.
As well-scripted as the surprise Tigers’ season has been, and as perfectly-scripted as this grand finale of the rivalry had been, something went wrong in the moment. Kansas’ expectant Travis Releford eyed Denmon down and junior guard Michael Dixon slashed the basket only to bounce off Thomas Robinson’s awaiting chest on help-side.
By the time, Dixon overhead-passed to Denmon on the elbow, and by the time Dixon could lift the ball off his hand, the buzzer had sounded. The Jayhawks, down by 19 with 21 minutes and 24 seconds ago, were the winners, 87-86.
“It feels great, man," Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "This is a real good feeling.”
Taylor was wearing a blue T-shirt with his teammates that read, "KANSAS JAYHAWKS: DEFEATING MISSOURI SINCE 1854," as Jayhawk faithful could be heard still roaring the way they did at the game’s tipoff, producing as high as a 120.2 sound decibel reading, according to the scoreboard above James Naismith Court.
Taylor had missed a pair of crucial free throws in front of the Tigers’ boisterous fan section at Mizzou Arena last time, when his team was down three with time dwindling. He had a similar opportunity in front of his own crowd and drained both of them, the points that would clinch the game.
“I talked to my friend after the last game and he said, 'Man, you’re going see them again and it’s going to be in a bigger situation and it’s going to mean more,'” Taylor said. “He was absolutely right. I came through this time. I’m glad I got to shoot those free throws and I knocked them down.”
Taylor scored 24 points and found teammate Conner Teahan to bust the Tigers’ zone often. Teahan, a marksmen who connected on all four of his three-point tries said the game’s atmosphere rivaled the 2008 national championship setting he was a part of as a freshman.
“For a game that I’ve played in, this is probably the most awesome experience I’ve had in my life,” he said, smiling through the questions coming his way after the game. “To be honest, I’m really not even sure right now. I’m kind of all over the place right now, I’m just happy we won.”
The Tigers (25-4, 12-4 Big 12 Conference) operated an attack against the Jayhawks (24-5, 14-2) that reached its most potent in the last five minutes of the half, going on a 13-1 scoring run to hold a 12-point advantage in the locker room.
Missouri went over six minutes field goal-less at one point in the second frame, allowing Kansas to overcome its largest second-half deficit since 2007.
“We had the game in our hands,” senior guard Kim English said, a dejected look on his face that mirrored one he showed earlier in the week after losing at home to Kansas State. “We gave them a gift.”
The Tigers’ chance as Big 12 champions now hangs in the balance more than ever with the Jayhawks in the driver’s seat.
For now, unless the two sides meet once more in Kansas City during the conference tournament, the last shot Southeastern Conference- bound Missouri will remember against its 105-year-old rival will be one that went un-attempted.
English was quiet for six seconds before recounting what he would remember most from the rivalry.
“Players on the court played their hearts out,” he said.