The Tigers received a standing ovation from the crowd Sunday as they defeated No. 9-ranked Tennessee, 80-63.
After losing to Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., by 45 points earlier in this season, the Tigers were hungry for a rematch.
“This is our house and we want to protect it,” sophomore guard Morgan Eye said. “We obviously learned from our mistakes. A lot of it was just things that we can control.”
Despite losing by 45 to the same team less than a month ago, Missouri never trailed Tennessee by more than five points.
The Tigers’ victory marked Tennessee’s first Southeastern Conference loss this season and Missouri’s first win over a top 10 team under coach Robin Pingeton. The last time Missouri (15-8, 4-5 SEC) beat a top 10 team was in a 70-62 victory over No. 10 Baylor on Jan. 23, 2010.
“Give Missouri credit, they played great,” Tennessee forward Taber Spani said. “I think they wanted it more.”
In a first half that saw eight lead changes and six tied scores, Missouri contended with Tennessee (17-5, 8-1 SEC), trailing by only three at halftime.
Just three minutes into the second half, senior center Liz Smith hit a jumper to pull the Tigers within two. As she turned to head back on defense, she stepped over Tennessee guard Kamiko Williams, who was lying in the middle of the paint, down with an ankle injury.
Williams, who averages 5.7 points per game on the season, had scored 14 of Tennessee’s 37 points in the first half. She was two points away from besting a previous season high of 15, and four away from clinching a new career record.
Following her ankle injury, Williams was helped off the court, and she did not return to the game.
To add insult to injuries, Williams' departure from the game deprived Tennessee of its most productive offensive player. Despite playing only 17 minutes, Williams led the Lady Vols in scoring.
“With Kamiko going out, I thought it hurt us because she was one of the few that was playing hard and kept us in the game,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said in the postgame press conference. “I thought she was getting good looks for her, rebounding, brought us energy on the defensive end. And then when she went out, nobody picked up the slack.”
Shortly after Williams left the court, sophomore guard Morgan Eye hit a jumper to give Missouri a 47-45 lead. From that point on, the Tigers never looked back.
Morgan Eye shot 50 percent from beyond the arc, hitting 6-for-12 from 3-range. In doing so, she matched the Missouri record of 90 3-pointers made in a single season, set by alumna Alyssa Hollins in 2008.
Eye led the Tigers in scoring with 26 points and combined with senior guard Liene Priede, who had eight, to tally 34 bench points for Missouri.
Tennessee also came up short from the line. A team that averages 77 percent on the season, the Vols were only 12-of-20 shooting from the charity stripe.
“We’re 60 percent from the free throw line,” Warlick said. “You just can’t win games, especially on the road, if you don’t hit layups and free throws. I thought we missed big layups and we didn’t finish our free throws. You’ve got to have those points.”
In contrast, Missouri shot 85 percent from the line, converting 11 of 13 attempts. The Tigers also outscored Tennessee in the paint, 26-18.
“They shoot the ball very well at home, but we knew that going in,” Warlick said. “You can’t give a team like Missouri 11 threes and expect that you’re going to be in the game when you miss free throws and layups. They’re just a disciplined offensive team that you have to get up there to get after and we did not do that today.”
For Missouri, the win represents long sought-after success.
“I don’t think it’s any secret this has been a program that hasn’t had a lot of success in the last few years,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “I just think for laying the foundation brick by brick, this is another brick.”
In preparation for the rematch, Pingeton said her team watched a lot of film following the blowout loss at Tennessee earlier this season.
“The first time our team traveled to Tennessee, I do think we were a little awe-struck,” Pingeton said. “It’s a special place. That’s why their home record is as good as it is.“
Junior forward Bri Kulas talked about the impact of the win on Missouri’s program.
“I think it’s a huge accomplishment,” Kulas said. “That’s what we work for every day, and we believed that we could win this game.”
Nodding in agreement with her teammates, senior forward Liz Smith smiled and looked almost as if she was tearing up as she reflected on her years playing at Missouri.
“In all my career, I’ve never felt something like that after a game,” Smith said. “It was just something so great to experience with all my teammates, especially my last year."