It’s a little thing, but Missouri coach Frank Haith includes “helping your teammates off the floor” when he defines toughness.
“It’s not physical toughness” he said. “We’re talking about doing those little things all the time.”
His starting five average a height of 6 feet, 2 inches, and Haith knows they all must act strategically on defense.
“We have to be that type of team defensively,” Haith said. “We gotta be a team that moves their feet because we’re smaller. If we don't give up our bodies, it makes it very difficult for us to have success.”
It would be hard to say this was the determining factor in what was perhaps the grand finale of the Border Showdown in Columbia on Saturday night in Mizzou Arena, but his team took plenty of charges.
Senior forward Kim English was playing with a stomachache, resisting the embarrassment that throwing up in front of the well over 15,000 in attendance and a national television audience would’ve caused.
Still, English could frequently be seen dueling inside with Kansas’ 7-footer Jeff Withey. On two occasions, English cunningly slid in front of an oncoming Jayhawk, rigidly positioned his body and taking two charges. He has taken 23 in 23 games.
“(During halftime,) I vomited a lot,” he said, smiling. “I don’t know who catered pre-game meal, but I got it up out of me. I actually felt a lot better.”
English scored seven of his team’s first nine points out of the locker room.
Kansas took command of the second half, shouldered by forward Thomas Robinson, the national player of the year frontrunner. With Ricardo Ratliffe in foul dilemma, his replacement, senior center Steve Moore, finished playing more minutes. He spent most of them tasked with Robinson.
During the week of anticipation, Moore recognized the challenge that Robinson would offer and said he looked forward to it.
Moore showed struggles of matching up with a more explosive and athletic Robinson, who scored 19 of his 25 points and yanked down six of his 13 rebounds in the second half.
But with 1:43 remaining on the clock and the Tigers down five, perhaps Moore’s rise to the occasion couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
Robinson threatened mid-lane once again and on his way to the basket, Moore shifted his body to the left and absorbed the full driving force of Robinson. The official called a charge, which proved to be the turning point of the game.
Senior guard Marcus Denmon, also hailing from Kansas City, scored three previous points before it happened. He scored six more and was the one responsible for nine of the Tigers’ 11 unanswered points that capped their victory.
“They had a guy that was unbelievable tonight,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
That "guy" had shot 18-of-63 from the field and 5-of-31 behind the perimeter in his previous five contests. This time, he shot 10-of-16 and drained six of his nine three-point attempts, finishing with 29 points.
In the days of preparation for the game, Haith said the coaching staff drilled Denmon before and after practice putting shots up.
“My teammates are a bunch of winners,” said Denmon, who was named Big 12 Conference Player of the Week on Monday. “I think you buy into the coaching staff and you buy into whatever it takes to get wins. That’s what my teammates and myself did to get the win tonight.”
They did that and all the other little things.