Memorable Mizzou Postseason Moments (Part Four): 1993

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
Part Three: 1991

Like Stan Ray in 1978, another Mizzou big man burst out of a season-long slump and led an unassuming Tiger team to the 1993 Big Eight Tournament championship.

***

Like Stan Ray in 1978, another Mizzou big man burst out of a season-long slump and led an unassuming Tiger team to the 1993 Big Eight Tournament championship.

No names, no problem.  Without a marquee player like Doug Smith or Anthony Peeler, Missouri fielded a fairly faceless squad that spent the season’s first two months building a reputation.   After the Tigers beat Illinois to give Norm Stewart his 500th win as Missouri’s coach, Jevon Crudup recorded 21 points and 11 rebounds in a conference-opening win at Colorado, and Melvin Booker scored 20 in a victory over Oklahoma State that moved Mizzou to 12-4 overall and 3-0 in league play.

Following an overtime loss at Nebraska and a drubbing at Kansas, the Tigers bounced back with a double-digit win over nationally-ranked Kansas State, as Booker scored 19.  At 4-2 in the league, Missouri looked like a title contender.  But then the trap door fell open.

For the first time in 19 years, MU lost seven straight games, some in agonizing fashion.  In Stillwater, Jevon Crudup hit a three-pointer with four seconds left, giving Missouri a three-point lead and virtually assuring victory.  But Bryant Reeves, Oklahoma State’s seven-foot center, took an inbounds pass at half-court and launched a prayer.  The ball bounced off the backboard and through the net, forcing overtime.  The Cowboys went on to win by four.  Three days later at the Hearnes Center, Mizzou led Oklahoma by seven late in the game.  But Oklahoma closed on an 8-0 run to win by one point.  Night in, night out, the Tigers found new ways to lose.

The streak came to an end in the regular season finale, a 70-53 win over Colorado, as Mark Atkins, a mad-bombing junior guard, scored 18 on 6-of-16 three-point shooting.  Still, at 16-13 overall, and 5-9 in the conference, Missouri entered the Big Eight Tournament as the seventh seed.  Once there, though, Mizzou dished out some déjà vu to the league.

In 1978, the seventh-seeded Tigers won the tournament behind the inspired play of Stan Ray, a center who had struggled throughout the season.  Fifteen years later, Chris Heller filled Ray’s role.  Heller, a 6’10" post player, had endured a frustrating season.  But when the Tigers got to Kemper Arena, Heller and his teammates let it all hang out.  "We had nothing to lose," he later said.  "Everybody was loose."  Heller began to find his game in a first round rout of Oklahoma State.  With 12 points and 8 rebounds, he outplayed Bryant Reeves.  But Heller was just one of three unlikely suspects to lead the Tigers to their 81-62 victory.  Reggie Smith scored a career-high 15 points to go with 6 assists, and Mark Atkins made four of seven three-pointers on his way to 20 points.  "It was an alarm clock, and everyone woke up at the same time," said Smith.

Heller continued his stellar play in the semifinal against Iowa State, posting 20 points and 7 rebounds in a 67-63 victory that propelled the Tigers into the final.  "He’s really showing some spunk," Norm Stewart said of Heller.

The Tigers caught a break when Kansas State upset league champ Kansas in the other semifinal.  The Wildcats, with a bench even shorter than Mizzou’s, relied almost exclusively on six players during the three-day tournament.  And when the last five minutes of the game came around, Missouri was able to kick into a gear that K-State simply did not have.  The Tigers took a 68-56 win that gave them a berth in the NCAA bracket.  Heller, the tournament MVP, produced a modest 9 points and 6 rebounds on a day when the Tigers got a balanced effort from their top seven players. They also got motivation from Norm Stewart, who instilled belief in a team that had every reason to doubt itself.  "We always tell our players that they can make things happen that other people don’t think about," Stewart said, savoring victory.  Years later, reflecting on the title run, Chris Heller stressed the team’s achievement, but admitted being pleased with his performance.  "I felt good," he said, "because for three days I showed what I could do."

Seeded tenth in the NCAA’s West Region, the Tigers opened against Temple, which employed a fierce match-up zone defense unlike anything Missouri had seen all year.  Frustrated by the pressure, the Tigers turned the ball over 22 times.  Despite Heller’s 12 points and 12 rebounds, Mizzou fell, 75-61.  After the high of the Big Eight Tournament title, Missouri’s lackluster performance was "like putting on olive on a dip of ice cream," said Norm Stewart.  The bitter taste carried over briefly into the next season, but it quickly turned into a bowl of cherries.

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