Mizzou Hoops Season In Review

MUTIGERS.COM Kim English led Missouri in scoring in 2009-10.
MUTIGERS.COM
Kim English led Missouri in scoring in 2009-10.
MUTIGERS.COM

April 9, 2010

Columbia, Mo. -

 

The 2009-10 season was expected to be one of transition for Missouri. Coming off the winningest season in school history, coupled with the departure of three 1,000-point scorers, Missouri was expected to fall back in the Big 12 pecking-order as it looked to reload for another postseason run down the road.

The problem is - no one told Mizzou.

Led by three selfless seniors and a collection of young offensive guns, Missouri returned to NCAA Tournament play for the second time in as many seasons and danced throughout the first weekend after knocking off favored Clemson (86-78) and taking Final Four bound West Virginia down to the wire.

Missouri finished the season with a surprising 23-11 mark and won 10 Big 12 Conference games despite playing in the #1 RPI league in America. The Tigers knocked off nationally-ranked foes Kansas State and Texas in conference action and finished just one game out of second place in the Big 12’s final ledger. While prognosticators had their own opinions of Mizzou following the departure of DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence, Mike Anderson’s roster had other ideas.

Infusing three new starters into the lineup, Missouri opened the season an impressive 4-0. The club routed three consecutive opponents on their home floor, despite playing without the services of team-leader, J.T. Tiller, who suffered a bone bruise in his foot during the season-opener against Tennessee-Martin. The Tigers inserted freshman Michael Dixon into the starting five while Tiller recovered and defeated UT-Martin, Texas-Pan American and Chattanooga by a combined 114 points. 


 

 

The road got much more challenging during the semifinals and finals of the South Padre Island Invitational over Thanksgiving. While the team did enjoy a holiday meal in the south Texas sun, the Tigers spent much of the break preparing for games against Old Dominion and Richmond, two programs that would advance to play in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Missouri earned a quality early-season win vs. the Monarchs, forcing ODU into 24 turnovers en route to a 66-61 win. Missouri led by as many as 15 in the game and withstood 61 percent shooting from Old Dominion in the second half to gain the win.

Missouri wasn’t able to duplicate that formula one day later vs. Richmond however. While Richmond finished the year ranked in the Top 25, the Spiders successfully slowed down Mizzou and held the Tigers to just 52 points in the 59-52 defeat. Missouri went just 2-of-11 from three-point range and shot just 33 percent from the floor. Kim English led Missouri in scoring with 14 points, while Tiller, slowly returning from injury, added 11 thanks to 7-of-7 foul shooting.

English and Laurence Bowers were named to the All-Tournament Team, but the late loss handed the young team its first taste of defeat.

Missouri experienced consecutive defeats for the first time in two seasons following an 89-83 loss at another NCAA qualifier, Vanderbilt. The Commodores built a 14 point lead in the final six minutes, before MU came storming back to cut the lead down to a single point in the final minute. English poured in 20 and Zaire Taylor added 17, but a 47-26 disparity in the rebounding column ultimately doomed MU.

Missouri bounced back from its two-game skid with a 106-69 shellacking of Oregon in the Big 12 / Pac-10 Hardwood Series. The Ducks entered Mizzou Arena with an identical 4-2 mark on the year, but left with a bevy of questions following the 37-point loss. Missouri shot the ball confidently in its home return, hitting 14 three-pointers and dishing out 28 assists on 37 baskets. Six Tigers reached double figures and Justin Safford finished with nine points, narrowly missing a seventh. Marcus Denmon scored 17 points to lead a balanced Tiger lineup and the Tigers held Oregon to just 30 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent from three-point range.

Missouri continued its early-season roller coaster ride in a 60-59 loss at Oral Roberts on Dec. 9. While the Golden Eagles have traditionally been tough on their home floor and did handle nationally-ranked New Mexico later in the month, Missouri certainly left Tulsa with a sinking feeling after the last-second loss. Missouri led by as many as 11 points in the final nine minutes of the game, but Murphy’s Law struck the Black & Gold, as turnovers, missed free throws and untimely shooting plagued the Tigers. Denmon was Missouri’s lone consistent offensive threat, scoring 17 points off the bench, but 1-of-3 foul shooting for the game and a 39-32 rebounding disparity determined MU’s fate in the loss.

Brighter days were ahead for Missouri as it closed the non-conference season with a seven game winning surge. Missouri won all seven of those contests by double figures, including a long-awaited win over Illinois in the annual Busch Braggin’ Rights Game in St. Louis.

The run began with a dominating 87-36 win against Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 12. Missouri led by 25 points at the half and by as many as 56 points in the game en route to one of its most lopsided wins in school history. English led Mizzou with 20 tallies and 12 of 13 Tigers who saw game action scored at least two points. Missouri’s bench outscored FDU 38-36 for the game, and Mizzou forced 26 turnovers and dished 23 assists in the solid all-round contest.

Missouri continued its stellar play with an 88-70 win over an improved Arkansas-Pine Bluff bunch. The Golden Lions started the year with a monstrous road schedule and that continued on Dec. 19 with the 18-point loss to Mizzou. The Tigers led by as many as 28 points in the final eight minutes and got double-figure efforts from four players, highlighted by English’s 18. Dixon added 13 as well as the Tigers continued to build momentum heading into their holiday showdown with Illinois in St. Louis just four days later.

The day before Missouri’s clash with the Fighting Illini, media continued to press Mike Anderson’s squad about the school’s 10-year hiatus from possessing the Braggin’ Rights trophy. While it had been exactly one decade since the Tigers claimed a win in St. Louis’ favorite holiday hoops clash, Missouri wasted little time providing answers in 2009-10, as the club earned an 81-68 victory at the Scottrade Center. Mizzou was once again led by the dynamic underclassmen tandem of English and Dixon, as the two combined for 40 points, six assists and five steals in the 13-point win. English’s 24 tallies helped him earn Big 12 Player of the Week honors, while Dixon’s 16 points were a career high in 28 minutes. Missouri shot just 41 percent from the floor, but forced Illinois into 22 turnovers and held Bruce Weber’s club to just 39 percent shooting. Tiller also played magnificently in his final Braggin’ Rights Game, scoring 12 points, dishing five assists and grabbing five boards while committing just one turnover.

MU closed out December with solid wins against Austin Peay and in-state foe UMKC. English and Dixon combined for 35 points vs. the Governors, led by English’s 23, while Bowers came off the pine to score 17 points in MU’s win against the Kangaroos. The Memphis native was flawless shooting the basketball, hitting all-five field goal attempts and going a perfect 7-of-7 from the charity stripe in just 17 minutes.

One large non-conference clash remained for Missouri before the start of Big 12 play on Jan. 9, as Georgia came calling to Mizzou Arena. Like Mizzou, Georgia also earned a neutral-site win over Illinois and the Bulldogs boasted two of the SEC’s top players, sophomores Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Leslie did lead Georgia with 18 points in the game, but Missouri’s defensive pressure forced UGA into 23 turnovers and Missouri routed the Dawgs 89-61. Mizzou led by as many as 32 in the game and Bowers continued his strong play by scoring a career high 23 tallies in just 20 minutes. The sophomore forward hit an incredible 11-of-14 shots from the floor. Missouri also dished out 25 assists compared to just nine turnovers as the team improved to 11-3 on the year and pushed that mark to 12-3 following a 74-45 win vs. Savannah State on Jan. 6.

Missouri opened Big 12 Conference play on Jan. 9 vs. a surging Kansas State team that was ranked inside the Top 10 for the first time in practically 40 years. As expected, Missouri played tough against the talented Wildcats and the two teams exchanged 12 lead changes and eight ties. Kansas State grabbed the early lead and led by as many as 10 in the opening stanza, only to see a late Missouri rally carry the Tigers to a 36-33 halftime advantage. K-State quickly grabbed the lead again in the second period only to watch Mizzou counter with an 8-0 run to go back in front 46-39 on an English jumper at the under-16 minute media time out. K-State had a rally of its own and charged in front by six, 55-49, with under six minutes left to play. That’s when Denmon and Taylor took over for Missouri. Denmon hit his first of back-to-back threes to help Missouri regain momentum, first cutting the score to 55-52 and then 57-56. Three consecutive free throws by Taylor tied the game and the clubs exchanged hoops up until Denmon’s runner off the glass put MU in front by two, 65-63. A Denmon steal and free throw extended the advantage to 66-63, but a deep Pullen trey tied the game setting up more of Taylor’s late heroics. With the scored even at 66-66, Taylor launched a deep trey from the top of the key giving Missouri a 69-66 advantage with just :30 seconds remaining. Taylor then requested the defensive assignment of Pullen and forced a tough miss. KSU’s Chris Merriewether grabbed the rebound however and scored on a put back. Tiller was then fouled on the ensuing possession and nailed the first free throw to make it 67-65, but missed the second. Bowers somehow came up with the fumbled rebound attempt and was immediately fouled himself. After two makes, the game was over and Mizzou claimed the biggest win of Week 1 in the Big 12.

A nail-biting overtime thriller ensued for Mizzou in Lubbock, Texas, as the Tigers held on for a 94-89 win in the Texas Plains. Denmon and English each scored 20 for the Tigers and Texas Tech hit an incredible 7-of-8 three pointers during the final 3:35 of regulation and into overtime to rally back and force the extra period. Missouri led by as many as 11 in the second half, but John Roberson scored 25 points and Brad Reese hit 5-of-6 three-pointers to stay tight. Still, despite being on the road, Missouri got five points from Denmon and four more from Dixon in the overtime to escape with their first road win of the year.

While the Tigers blistered the nets for 94 points in that win in Lubbock, shooting struggles pestered Mizzou in games against Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. Missouri went just 1-2 in those contests and shot 34 percent from the floor and 28 percent from three point range. Bowers was the lone Tiger to reach double figures in Norman in a 66-61 loss to the Sooners, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 boards for his first double-double. Shooting percentages didn’t see much of an increase, albeit in a 70-53 win vs. Nebraska a week later. Mizzou shot just 39 percent from the floor, but limited the Huskers to 41 percent shooting in the17-point triumph. Miguel Paul came off the bench to rescue MU, scoring 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting in just 16 minutes to help his club pull away late. Missouri committed just five turnovers vs. the stingy Husker defense and Safford ripped down a career high 11 boards to help his team improve to 3-1 on the Big 12 season.

Missouri suffered through its worst shooting night of the season in an 84-65 loss at Kansas. The Tigers shot just 28 percent for the game, but did get a career high 19 tallies from Safford despite falling to 15-5 on the year.

After a torrid three-game shooting stretch Missouri was due to shoot the ball well in their return home vs. Oklahoma State and Mizzou didn’t disappoint. The club hit a season high 17 three-pointers, connecting on 17-of-31 triples, tying the #2 mark in MU history. English, Denmon and Dixon each hit four treys apiece, led by Dixon who was a perfect 4-of-4 beyond the arc. Not even 10-of-20 foul shooting could slow the Tigers down. Missouri shot 55 percent from three, 52 perfect for the game and dished 21 assists in the 95-80 win vs. Big 12 Player of the Year James Anderson and the Pokes. English’s 20 led all Tigers and Bowers chipped in 16 points off the pine.

Perhaps the turning point in Missouri’s season came during a 77-74 home loss to Texas A&M on Feb. 3. While the defeat snapped MU’s 32-game home court winning streak and served as the first-ever home loss for nearly 90 percent of the roster, Missouri responded brilliantly three days later during an 84-66 win at Colorado. The Buffaloes were fresh off an overtime tussle with #1 Kansas and were regaining the services of their top player, Alec Burks, but Missouri clamped down defensively and attacked the Buffaloes in the paint to hand CU its worst home loss of the year. Burks did score 27 on Mizzou in his return, but the rest of Colorado’s team hit just 11-of-35 field goals (31 percent). Taylor and Tiller were masterful running the show, dishing a combined 11 assists compared to just two combined turnovers, while ripping six steals. Denmon and English carried the offensive payload, scoring 22 and 21 respectively on 8-of-11 three-point shooting. Safford and Ramsey also dropped in 10 points apiece as the Tigers won in Boulder for the fourth-straight year.

Tiller suffered a broken nose in that win vs. Colorado and was forced to wear a protective mask in the ensuing game against Iowa State. That mask lasted all of :17 seconds however as the Marietta, Ga., native quickly tossed the protective cover aside and promptly poured in a season high 17 tallies in 28 minutes. Iowa State, led by forwards Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap, held firm and kept the margin to one possession with under 1:45 to play. That’s when English rose up and hit one of the biggest shots of his young career, a deep trey from the top of the key to ignite a game-closing 9-0 run, that was only squelched by a Gilstrap trey at the final buzzer, resulting in a 65-56 final margin.

The Tigers narrowly missed out on a huge road win at Baylor on Feb. 13, falling 64-62 to the nationally-ranked Bears in Waco. Missouri attacked Baylor’s zone defense masterfully, highlighted by the high-post passing of Bowers off the bench, who dished four dimes in 30 minutes. Missouri’s formula for hanging tight worked for all 40 minutes, until a late-rebound and put back by Ekpe Udoh allowed the Bears to escape with the win. Missouri grabbed a 62-61 lead on an English lay-up and foul. The Baltimore native was intentionally fouled on the play while making the hoop and split a pair of free throws to give the Tigers their first lead of the second half. Missouri got the ball out of bounds and got a great look on a lay-up with the shot clock winding down, but once the ball rimmed off, LaceDarius Dunn raced the length of the floor and drew a foul to set up a pair of critical free throws with just seconds remaining. Dunn made the first to tie the game, but missed the second and after series of put back attempts for BU failed, Udoh finally got an attempt to fall and Baylor earned the win.

Missouri bounced back from that heartbreaking loss at Baylor with an 82-77 win against Texas. Ranked #1 nationally just one month prior, the Longhorns hit 7-of-18 three-pointers to hang tight and even grab a two-point lead in the second half. That’s when English took over for Missouri, scoring 11 of his team-high 18 points to lead the Tigers back in front. That surge by English, coupled with eight second-half points from Ramsey allowed Missouri to push its lead as high as 12 in the final four minutes. Ramsey grabbed 11 boards en route to a double-double and Anderson claimed his third consecutive win over the Longhorns.

The solid road play continued that weekend as the Tigers handed Nebraska a 74-59 loss at the Bob Devaney Center. This time it was Denmon who carried the offensive torch, scoring a career high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Nebraska couldn’t find a defensive answer for the Kansas City sophomore, as he hit 5-of-7 treys and dished three assists in just 24 minutes. Nebraska jumped out to an early 11-1 lead on a trio of Ryan Anderson three-pointers, but Missouri controlled from that point on, outscoring the Big Red 73-48 over the final 36 minutes. Anderson was the lone Husker in double figures with 22, but didn’t record a second half hoop until the final media time out. Taylor added 18 for Missouri on 4-of-7 three-point shooting as well.

Missouri’s 92-63 win over Colorado proved to be a costly, season-altering one, as Safford was lost to an ACL injury. Safford opened the game strong, scoring eight points in the first seven minutes, but an awkward landing on an alley-oop pass forced the Tigers to adjust their lineup the rest of the way. Missouri had no trouble finishing off the improved Buffaloes in the 29-point decision and got 21 points from Denmon in a balanced effort. Eight Tigers scored at least six points, including Tiller who flirted with a triple-double, scoring 10 points, grabbing seven boards, while dishing a career high nine assists.

Playing without Safford, Missouri battled #6 Kansas State to a 63-53 decision in Manhattan, although the Tigers were within just five points in the final seconds. Missouri held K-State’s explosive offense to just 23 points in the first half and 63 total tallies for the game, but couldn’t muster much offensive success themselves. MU shot just 32 percent for the game and hit just 22 percent from beyond the arc, keeping it from pulling the major upset.

One of the most dramatic wins would occur on March 2 in Ames, Iowa, when Mr. Big Shot gave us all one more night to cherish. Sure it wasn’t the most spectacular game-winner. That probably occurred against Kansas. It wasn’t against a ranked opponent and it didn’t come on national TV like his previous three shots, but Taylor’s three monstrous buckets at Iowa State not only gave Missouri its 10th league win, but likely stamped MU’s postseason ticket as well.

Trailing 61-59 after a pair of Brackins free throws, Taylor tied the contest with his first hoop of the game on a driving runner with just 18 seconds left. The tie was the 15th of the game in the back-and-forth tussle and it allowed Missouri to force overtime after Bowers came up with a steal on a Gilstrap turnover.

The overtime proved to be equally dramatic. ISU scored the first four points to go in front 65-61 and looked to have a chance to increase its lead when Taylor’s three-point attempt rimmed off the mark. However Denmon somehow corralled the loose board and scored his 16th point of the night on a put back to keep the Tigers in it. MU then forced Iowa State into a pair of misses, including a blocked shot by Denmon on Scott Christopherson’s three-pointer, allowing Dixon to run out and knot the game on a lay-up with 1:48 remaining. Iowa State did regain the lead with :31 seconds left on a Gilstrap jumper, but Taylor responded by burying a one-handed floater to even the game for the 17th time with :11 seconds left. Iowa State elected not to call a time out and raced the length of the floor, only to commit their 20th turnover with 6.1 seconds left, setting up the repeated heroics… and was there ever any doubt?

Taylor took the inbounds pass from Tiller, raced the length the floor past Gilstrap and lofted a soft, high-arching floater off the top of the backboard to win the game. It was of course Taylor’s fourth career game winner and once again allowed the Tigers to celebrate another postseason berth.

Tough losses to Kansas (77-56) at home and to 12th-seeded Nebraska (75-60) in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament left Missouri hungry heading into its second consecutive NCAA Tournament. The high-powered Tigers averaged just 58 points in the two losses and weren’t about to let a third loss close out the tremendous careers of its three senior starters.

With 11 days rest between games, Missouri looked fast and fresh in its 86-78 win over 7th-seeded Clemson in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Clemson shot the ball magically in the opening half, hitting 8-of-13 treys, but Missouri still went to the locker room tied thanks to its defensive pressure. MU forced Clemson into 14 first-half turnovers and scored an incredible 16 points off those miscues in the first 20 minutes to nullify the Clemson Tiger shooting.

Well within striking distance, it was only a matter of time until The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball seized control. The game exchanged 11 ties and 11 more lead changes, but a Tiller free throw at the 13:50 mark of the second half gave Missouri a lead it would never surrender. In fact the Tigers pushed their lead to as many as 11 on Tiller’s and-one bucket with 6:24 to go. That lay-up and ensuing free throw punctuated a 21-6 surge over a seven minute stretch which saw the Tigers go from trailing 54-50 to leading 71-60.

Ramsey and English led Mizzou with 20-point games. Ramsey’s 20-point effort was the first of his career and came on 8-of-11 shooting. The forward also chipped in eight boards, four assists and three steals. The Tigers also broke the school record for steals in an NCAA Tournament game with 15.

That would be the final win of the season for the Missouri however, as West Virginia ended MU’s run with a 68-59 decision in the second round. Mizzou was again balanced placing four players in double figures, highlighted by Dixon’s 15 points, but Missouri could never snag the lead from the #2-seeded Mountaineers and finished the season 23-11.

Following the NCAA Tournament loss Head Coach Mike Anderson stood in front of his somber group of Tigers and uttered the powerful phrase: "I’ve never been more proud of a team than I am of this group of guys. Listen to me now, I want your eyes right here," Anderson said motioning to his players to lift their heads. "I have never been more proud of a team, than I am of this group and I have worked with a lot of teams, fellas. I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud to be your basketball coach."

And that’s how Missouri closed out its 2010 campaign. Although the clock ran out on Missouri’s season, the Tigers continued to lay the foundation for basketball stardom. With 54 wins over two seasons and back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament, it’s unlikely the experts, the same folks that picked Missouri to fall back into the Big 12 cellar, will make that same mistake in 2011.

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