After winning for the 67th time at Mizzou Arena with a 78-72 victory over Iowa State, Missouri’s eight seniors reflected in the middle of Norm Stewart Court.
“How about that ride in?” senior guard Marcus Denmon said, joking.
The Mizzou Arena portion of that ride concluded Wednesday night, as no. 7 Missouri (26-4, 13-4 Big 12 Conference) defeated Iowa State (21-9, 11-6 Big 12) on senior night in comeback fashion.
“Senior nights are tough," coach Frank Haith said. "They’re tough because of all the emotions, the routine’s so different, and it showed early in the ballgame."
Iowa State took a 40-36 lead into the break, thanks in large part to its dominance off the glass. The Cyclones held a 20-13 advantage on the boards, having hauled in 11 offensive rebounds. Five separate Cyclones connected from three-point range, as the team was 6-of-17 from deep in the half.
Leading the Cyclones in the first half was sophomore forward Royce White, as he has all season. White had 14 points to go along with three rebounds and six assists at the break.
“He’s such a dynamic and different kind of player,” senior Kim English said. “At halftime, we talked and he asked me if I liked his threes. I said, 'Keep shooting.'”
White and his fellow Cyclones did just that, launching 14 more three pointers in the second half, connecting on six. But, until the third media timeout of the half, the Tigers could not pull ahead.
And then, with 12:15 left in the game, senior forward Steve Moore laid out for a loose ball. Moore snagged the ball and passed it while sprawled on the floor to junior Mike Dixon. Dixon relayed it down the court to English, whose layup gave the Tigers their first lead since the 14:37 mark of the first half.
“I think that gave us the lift to finish the game out,” Haith said. “Just a helluva play. Just giving up your body, giving up yourself.”
Haith had been waiting for someone to make a play like that, as the Tigers, in his mind, were losing the “effort game.”
“Our identity as Mizzou basketball is we win the effort game,” Haith said. “We pride ourselves on at the end of the day we win the effort game. I don't know if we were winning that. That play was a sign of us getting back to who we were.”
The lead was short-lived, as a White layup on Iowa State’s ensuing possession put the Cyclones back on top.
Missouri would go on a 9-0 run to take a 64-59 lead, one the Tigers would not relinquish.
“They’re a really good basketball team so we didn’t expect to blow them out at all,” English said. “These kind of games are like tournament games. You just want to get a little window where you can get a little cushion.”
With just under a minute to play, sophomore guard Phil Pressey spotted Moore, who had snuck behind the Cyclone defenders. Moore caught Pressey’s outlet pass in stride and slammed it home, effectively ending Iowa State’s chances at a victory and the seniors’ final home game.
“It’s the end of a chapter,” Haith said. “These guys have had some special moments over the four years. I’m just proud that I’ve been able to come along for the last year.”
Junior guard Mike Dixon led the Tigers with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe chipped in 16, while Denmon and English added 14 and 13, respectively.
On the game, the Tigers were just 4-of-12 from beyond the arc.
White, whom Haith compared to Magic Johnson before the first meeting of these two teams in January, led Iowa State throughout the course of the game. The versatile 6-foot-8-inch, 270-pound forward led the Cyclones with 20 points and nine assists while also hauling in six rebounds.
The win clinched the No. 2 seed in next weekend’s Big 12 Tournament for the Tigers, who round out the regular season Saturday afternoon at Texas Tech.
“It’s March, it’s an exciting time across the country,” Haith said. “You turn on CBS and that music comes on… man, it’s a great time of year.”