Memorable Mizzou Postseason Moments (Part Three): 1991

With college basketball's postseason is upon us, there is no better time to reflect on previous Mizzou postseason magic.  To do that, we will turn to the history book to end all Mizzou Basketball history books.


True Sons, A Century of Missouri Tigers Basketball by Michael Atchison traces the first hundred years of the Mizzou hoops program with recaps of each season and more than 300 photographs.  The book may be purchased from the Mizzou Alumni Association for $35 plus shipping by calling (573) 882-6611 or (800) 372-6822.

Part One: 1978
Part Two: 1987

In the 1990-91 season, NCAA sanctions precluded the Tigers from playing in the field of 64, and so Doug Smith – one of Missouri’s all-time greats – capped his career with a legendary performance in the Big Eight Tournament.

***

On November 8, 1990, after nearly two years of scrutiny, the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued its report on the Missouri basketball program.  The Committee found several violations, including inappropriate recruiting contacts in Michigan.  Penalties included a one-year postseason ban and recruiting restrictions.  Norm Stewart bristled at the result, denying some allegations, acknowledging some inadvertent violations, and stressing the program’s good faith cooperation with the NCAA.  Still, the fallout was harsh.  In addition to the NCAA’s penalties, assistant coaches Bob Sundvold and Rich Daly tendered their resignations, effective at the end of the 1990-91 season (though Daly later was reinstated after a successful appeal).

That was just part of the bad news, which came in waves.  Travis Ford, who would have been Missouri’s starting point guard, transferred to Kentucky over the summer, and Anthony Peeler was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester of his junior year.  Then, on the day that the NCAA issued its report, freshmen Melvin Booker, Jevon Crudup and Lamont Frazier were injured in a mishap in their military science class.

Through it all, the constant bright spot was Doug Smith.  Smith could have gone to the NBA after his junior season, when he was named Big Eight player of the year and second team All-America.  But he stayed, knowing that probation was on the horizon.  While others tried to find footing, Doug Smith was the pillar that propped up the program.

But he was just one man, and the Tigers struggled through the season’s first month, losing four of their first seven games, including one to Arkansas that snapped a record 34-game home winning streak.  The Tigers also lost to Illinois for the eighth straight year, despite 30 points and 15 rebounds from Smith.  "Whatever I said for the last eight years, just write that down again," Norm Stewart told reporters.  "Just change the names."

Things got better when Peeler returned in late December.  In his first game back, Peeler’s 11 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists complemented Mizzou’s dominant inside play, as Jevon Crudup scored 24 points in an easy victory over Grambling.  It began a surprising seven-game winning streak that included MU’s first three conference contests.

The first league victory came in Columbia against Oklahoma State.  Cowboy Byron Houston tallied 30 points and 15 rebounds, but Doug Smith countered with 40 and 14, making him the first Tiger ever to score 40 points in a game twice in a career. Freshman guard Melvin Booker hit the game-winning shot in an 80-79 overtime thriller.

After the streak, the Tigers temporarily lost their way.  Jevon Crudup, who had started all 15 games, was lost for the year when he broke his wrist in a lopsided loss at Kansas.  Things got worse when a knee injury shelved Peeler in defeats at Nebraska and Oklahoma.  Doug Smith recorded 27 points and 16 rebounds in an overtime win at Colorado, but after losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State, Mizzou stood just 5-5 in conference play.

But then, Missouri caught fire.  Peeler scored 30 in a rout of 14th-ranked Nebraska.  "If it wasn’t our best game of the year," said Norm Stewart, "it was awfully close."  Doug Smith, with 22 points, became only the second Tiger to surpass 2,000 points for his career.  He also moved past Steve Stipanovich to become Missouri’s all-time leading rebounder.

The Tigers lost at Iowa State before mounting a historic charge.  At Kansas State, sophomore center Chris Heller scored 18 in an 84-75 win, and Doug Smith grabbed career rebound number 1,000, making him the third player in Big Eight history with 2,000 points and 1,000 boards, joining Wayman Tisdale and Danny Manning.  Missouri closed the conference slate by routing Colorado, as Smith collected 23 points and 13 rebounds, and Jamal Coleman, a war horse in Crudup’s absence, added 14 points and 15 boards.

Next came revenge.  A year after being humiliated at Notre Dame, Missouri hosted the Irish, and returned the favor.  Anthony Peeler scored 25 points in an 84-54 demolition, Doug Smith’s last appearance at the Hearnes Center.  Smith, who scored 13 points and recorded a career-high 9 assists, stood at midcourt after the game and watched his number 34 jersey ascend to the rafters.  As fans saluted Smith, Norm Stewart reminisced.  "What can you say about Doug Smith that hasn’t already been said?" the coach asked.  "He played a great game, and it was a great way for him to finish his career."

Mizzou went into the Big Eight Tournament on a roll, but the Tigers’ presence irked some around the league.  The tournament title came with an automatic bid to the NCAA field, but Missouri was ineligible for postseason play due to probation.  If the Tigers could win, they might prevent an eligible team from advancing to the NCAA’s.

After a cakewalk in round one against Iowa State, the Tigers walked a tightrope in the semifinals.  Top-seeded Oklahoma State rallied from 16 points down to force two overtimes.  But Missouri endured in a 94-92 victory, as Doug Smith played 46 minutes on his way to 29 points and 10 rebounds.

The final pitted Missouri against 13th-ranked Nebraska.  Late scores by Jamal Coleman opened up a decisive lead in a 90-82 victory.  Peeler posted 18 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists, and earned a spot on the all-tournament team.  But the story of the weekend – and the season – was Doug Smith, whose 31 points helped him set records for scoring in a single tournament (92 points) and in a career (207).  Smith’s play reflected the urgency he felt.  "I knew this would be my last chance to play with my teammates," he said, "and I didn’t want to go out with a loss."  For Norm Stewart and the program, the victory was cathartic.  "To have all the things that have gone on with us this season and still do this well [is] just very, very special," said the coach.  True to their character, the Tigers played best when it was personal.

Fittingly, Doug Smith went out a winner, leaving a legacy among the very best in Missouri basketball history.  The conference player of the year for the second straight season, Smith left Columbia as Missouri’s all-time leading rebounder.  He also stood number two in points scored, blocked shots and steals, and number eight in assists.  Doug Smith may have grown up in Michigan, but in four scintillating years, he proved to be a true son of old Mizzou.

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