Column: For one night, Missouri made fans forget about their struggles

Despite a 72-62 loss to Kentucky, the Tigers brought energy back into an often lifeless Mizzou Arena on Tuesday.
The Mizzou Golden Girls lead fans and students alike in the Missouri Waltz during the second half against the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

The Missouri men’s basketball team shocked many in the college basketball world by sticking with No. 11 Kentucky for 39 minutes, but that wasn’t its most impressive feat.

Against Kentucky, Missouri made its fans briefly forget about the losses to schools you probably haven’t heard of such as Lipscomb and North Carolina Central. It made its fans forget about the uninspiring performances throughout its 13-game losing streak. And it made its fans suppress thoughts about the SEC-record three consecutive 20-loss seasons.

For one night, the roars of Tigers fans drowned out the negative noise that has surrounded the program in its three years under coach Kim Anderson, as they enjoyed a rare drama-filled basketball game.

The Tigers made you forget about the attendance issues that have plagued their third consecutive losing season; usually, fans sit scattered around the arena. This season, maybe 5,000 fans show up on a good night, and the student section is often filled with a handful of individuals who likely need a way to kill time with friends.

That changed on Tuesday. 10,074 fans showed up. The area designated for students was almost completely full, so much so that students had to show up early if they wanted a decent seat.

“It was a sea of black shirts,” guard Terrence Phillips said. “It was wonderful to have those students there to build that energy.”

The fans in attendance created so much energy that the power generators that keep Mizzou Arena running could have taken the night off. Former Missouri center Ryan Rosburg tweeted that it was the loudest Mizzou Arena has been in the past three and a half years.

The fans stayed engaged. The “MIZ” “ZOU” call and response chant lasted until the final five minutes. Normally, it doesn’t even make it out of the first five minutes after the opening tipoff.

The Tigers constantly heckled Kentucky coach John Calipari. Mount Mizzou Arena just about blew when officials assessed Calipari a technical foul in the second half.

Mizzou Arena has experienced jolts of electricity from time to time this season. But often, those jolts lasted no more than two or three minutes early on in games.

The energy — and many fans — have often left the games before the halfway point in the second half.

Missouri’s fight and play on Tuesday, however, kept fans glued in place. Fans did not partake in a mass exodus until a minute remained in the game.

Heck, fans couldn’t even leave their seats at halftime as performer Red Panda flipped bowls from her feet onto her head while she sat on a unicycle. If that was not exciting enough, a Mizzou student made a $5,000 halfcourt shot shortly after. Excitement and fun filled Mizzou Arena throughout the night from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Not bad for a matchup that featured a seven-win team facing the No. 11 team in the country.

Go ahead and take moral victories away from this game if you would be so inclined. I would not blame you. It seemed absurd to even consider a close game between Missouri and Kentucky before the season started, much less with the Tigers’ 2-12 SEC record.

The moral victories aren’t worth much, though, come time for March Madness bids. The Wildcats will play in the NCAA tournament once again, and Missouri will watch from home. It’s still a disappointing season, and Anderson is likely on his way out.

But at least for the next day, savor the great basketball played at Mizzou Arena. Let the electricity from Tuesday night flow through your body. Take a whiff of the competitiveness floating around in the air.

Because for one night, an entertaining game ensued after many expected to watch Missouri’s worse loss of the season.

Missouri actually found a way to put a product on the court that made all watching forget about three-plus years of struggles.

That, in itself, is more impressive than the Tigers’ ability to hang with the Wildcats.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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