Mizzou Arena traveled back in time for a brief moment on Saturday to when reaching the NCAA tournament was an expectation, not a pipe dream for Missouri men’s basketball.
Fans howled and roared in unison. Missouri students jumped up and down. Sitting on the edge of a seat wasn’t enough — standing became a requirement.
After trailing by 17 early in the game, the Tigers came within four of No. 20 Arizona early in the second half. Center Russell Woods looked to inject even more energy into the excited crowd with a dunk while also bringing Missouri within two. But he missed.
His missed dunk became a turning point when this energetic scene quickly changed as the Wildcats went on a 25-4 run to ultimately win 79-60.
This trip back to a bygone era that was only four years ago provided hope for the 7,532 Missouri fans in attendance. But it’s going to take more than hope to fill the stands.
Missouri is the “Show-Me” state for a reason. The largest crowd of Missourians that Mizzou Arena has seen this season came hoping to see improvement in coach Kim Anderson’s third year in Columbia.
Instead, Missouri showed its fans a basketball team that makes you want to cover your eyes when it shoots.
The Tigers failed to score a field goal for almost 10 minutes late in the second half. They also made only one three-point basket in that same half. Good luck keeping any crowd engaged with stats like those — especially when it already has little faith in your basketball team.
Players have tried to change that. Terrence Phillips, Kevin Puryear and Willie Jackson visited the student center to give out student tickets for the Arizona game, purchasing many of them themselves. They also made an effort to create excitement on Twitter.
Mizzou offered the incentive of free Chick-fil-A for the first 500 in attendance, along with a chance to win an Xbox One.
It’s all an effort to make Mizzou Arena what it was when Phillips, Puryear and Jackson were underclassmen in high school.
“We want it to feel like The Zou in here,” Phillips said earlier in the week. “We want to make it a hostile place to play in.”
T.J. Hinch, a senior and former MSA vice-presidential candidate who attended Saturday’s game, remembers those days, having grown up a Tiger fan. Hinch called those games in 2008, the year Mizzou made the Elite Eight, an experience. He also attended games during the 2012-13 season. Mizzou Arena averaged about 12,000 fans per game that year en route to an NCAA tournament appearance.
“It was a whole other level,” Hinch said. “It was completely electric.”
What felt like an electric jolt on Saturday showed to be nothing more than a small shock from a doorknob via static electricity.
The problem is two-fold. Until Missouri starts winning games against opponents who aren’t from schools most fans haven’t heard of, fans won’t energize Mizzou Arena similar to four years ago. But until fans start coming and giving the Tigers an advantage on their home court, Missouri won’t likely win many games.
It’s on Anderson and his team to break that cycle.
Until then, Missouri’s sixth man will stay home.
Edited by Eli Lederman | firstname.lastname@example.org