December 13, 2008

Tigers make plays late to get a win

Coming into Saturday night's game against Murray State, the Missouri Tigers featured one of the nation's more productive duos at forward. Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll combined to average 36.5 points per game. With the Racers making it a priority to slow down the senior forwards, the duo was limited to a combined 27 points by Murray State.

"I knew we were going to have one of those nights," Carroll said. "But the beauty of our team is that it's not just one guy."

Or two guys, in this case. Despite the production from Carroll and Lyons taking a slight hit, Mizzou managed to pull out a 75-64 win, their sixth in a row.

"That's what good teams do," Mike Anderson said. "You don't play your best basketball and you find a way to get the win. There's only two columns: the W and the L. We want the W's."

That the Tigers were able to get one still had a decent amount to do with Lyons and Carroll. Lyons had 14 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Carroll added 13 points and seven boards. But it was the supporting cast that may have stood out more in this game than the previous five wins. Matt Lawrence scored the game's first five points, as the Tigers ran out to a 9-0 lead.

The Tigers' third senior starter hit five of his first six shots, including three three-pointers. Those buckets helped the Tigers build a lead that ballooned as high as 16 points at 54-38.

But the Racers made things interesting, cutting the margin to just four with an 18-6 run. With 3:46 to play, Missouri led only 60-56. At that point, the unsung hero of the night took over. Murray State had the ball with a chance to draw within a single possession. Zaire Taylor trapped Isaac Miles and came up with a steal to thwart that Racer possession.

With 2:24 to go, the Tigers led by six. Following a Murray State timeout, the junior transfer stole an inbounds pass, made a layup and got fouled. The free throw made the play worth three of Taylor's five points on the night and ended any realistic shot the Racers had at an upset.

"You're not always going to have great shooting nights," Taylor said. "You've got to get it by hook or by crook, however you can get it. Defense never changes."

On this night, defense won a game that the coach knows might have gone in that other column in seasons past.

"Maybe last year," Anderson admitted, "I don't know if we could have done that."

Missouri is now 8-and-1. The Tigers are off for a week during finals before hosting Stetson at Mizzou Arena next Saturday night at 6 p.m.

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