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Classic Study Hall: Mizzou 96, Kansas 94 (1997)

For the longest time, I couldn't find the box score for this game.  But I was clearly underestimating the archive.  Thanks to the wonders of Shatsheet, it's time to relive a game that is simultaneously beloved and mostly forgotten.  We all remember Corey Tate's shot.  But Mizzou had to hang with a nearly flawless Kansas team for 49+ minutes before Tate's shot could matter.  How exactly did that happen?

Mizzou 96, Kansas 94

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
1.92 1.88
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.16 1.13
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.48 1.32
2-PT FG% 44.7% 47.2%
3-PT FG% 44.4% 38.9%
FT% 88.2% 74.2%
True Shooting % 60.0% 55.5%
Mizzou KU
Assists 15 17
Steals 7 7
Turnovers 18 12
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.22 2.00
Mizzou KU
Expected Offensive Rebounds 14 15
Offensive Rebounds 13 13
Difference -1 -2


Norm Stewart is known for having a very good track record against Kansas, and for an obvious reason: his players quite often played their best game of the season against the Jayhawks, and Mizzou's overall record versus Kansas was quite strong.  We do, however, make a little bit of an error when we're framing the "Norm vs Kansas" series.  We tend to think that, more often than not, it was Norm's scrappy teams of inferior talent versus Kansas and their NBA-ready squad.  This was rarely the case.  Typically, Mizzou did well against Kansas under Norm because Mizzou was equally talented.  In the 1970s, Kansas went 176-104, Mizzou 188-94.  In the 1980s, Kansas went 234-99, Mizzou 226-99.  Kansas obviously had better NCAA Tournament success -- reaching the Final Four in 1971, 1974 and 1986, and winning the whole thing in 1988 -- but as a whole, these teams were equals well into the 1990s.

That said ... by the mid-1990s, the talent tide had turned.

Your point guard matchup in this game: Dibi Ray vs Jacque Vaughn

Your small forward matchup: Corey Tate vs Paul Pierce.

Your center matchup: Derek Grimm vs Raef LaFrentz.

Kansas gave 34 minutes to Billy Thomas, Mizzou gave 34 to Tyron Lee.  Kansas gave 15 minutes to Ryan Robertson, Mizzou gave 13 to L. Dee Murdock.

How ... in the hell ... was this a game?

No Tricks

The other baffling part: Mizzou didn't beat Kansas because the Jayhawks played terribly, or because Mizzou was ridiculously overachieving in any one area of the game.  This game was incredibly even in just about every category -- both teams shot relatively well from 3-point land, the rebounds were dead even, and Mizzou actually turned the ball over more.  Plus, Kansas' stars played like stars.  Vaughn (48 minutes, 19 points on 5-for-12 shooting, 10 assists, 3 turnovers) basically pantsed Ray (48 minutes, 3 points on 1-for-3 shooting, 2 assists, 4 turnovers), and LaFrentz (47 minutes, 26 points on 10-for-22 shooting, 16 rebounds) battled Kelly Thames (46 minutes, 24 points on 7-for-16 shooting, 11 rebounds) to a near-draw.

But there was Buck Grimm, making four of eight 3-point attempts, and there was Sutherland, making three more with ever-increasing degree of difficulty.  There was Tyron Lee, battling Billy Thomas to a near-draw off the bench.

And there was Mizzou, making every overtime free throw after failing to put the game away from the stripe late in regulation. (Grimm, who shot 79.4% from the line in 1996-97, missed two of four free throws in the final 26 seconds -- Sutherland faltered as well -- and Mizzou led by only three when Vaughn was fouled with 13 seconds left. Vaughn missed the second free throw, but LaFrentz threw Grimm to the ground maneuvered around Grimm for the rebound and putback, sending the game to overtime after Dibi Ray missed a runner at the buzzer.)

Thanks to Norm and the Hearnes Center crowd, a Mizzou team that had recently lost eight of 11 games, actually believed they could hang with the 22-0 Jayhawks.  And with the ball bouncing free late in the second overtime, it wasn't Vaughn, or Haase, or Pierce (long fouled out), or LaFrentz, or Thomas, or Ryan Robertson snatching it up ... it was injury-prone tweener Corey Tate.

Mizzou Player Stats

(Definitions at the bottom of the post.)

AdjGS GmSc/Min Line
Kelly Thames (Jr.) 23.3 0.51 46 Min, 24 Pts (7-16 FG, 10-10 FT), 11 Reb (4 Off), 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 5 TO, 5 PF
Corey Tate (Sr.) 21.7 0.90 24 Min, 14 Pts (5-7 FG, 4-4 FT), 5 Reb (2 Off), 3 Ast
Jason Sutherland (Sr.) 18.0 0.51 35 Min, 18 Pts (4-9 FG, 3-6 3PT, 7-9 FT), 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 3 TO
Derek Grimm (Sr.) 17.1 0.46 37 Min, 20 Pts (6-13 FG, 4-8 3PT, 4-6 FT), 6 Reb, 2 TO, 5 PF
Tyron Lee (Jr.) 12.0 0.35 34 Min, 11 Pts (4-9 FG, 0-1 3PT, 3-3 FT), 3 Reb (2 Off), 3 Ast
L. Dee Murdock (So.) 3.3 0.26 13 Min, 4 Pts (1-5 FG, 2-2 FT)
Dibi Ray (Jr.) 0.0 0.00 48 Min, 3 Pts (1-3 FG, 1-1 3PT), 5 Reb, 2 Ast, 4 TO
Danny Allouche (So.) -2.2 -0.18 12 Min, 2 Pts (1-3 FG, 0-2 3PT)
Tate Decker (Fr.) -2.8 -2.76 1 Min, 2 TO
  • Before his 1994 injury, Kelly Thames was an athletic, high-flying forward, a guy just big enough to play power forward and fast enough to play on the wing.  After his injury, he was simply a warrior.  Sapped of a decent amount of athleticism, he turned into a crafty, strong-if-undersized power forward, and while Raef Lafrentz clearly got his points and rebounds, Thames matched him most of the way.
  • Tate is remembered for his final shot, but he had put together one of his best games well before that shot fell.  He averaged two points per shot, nabbed a couple of offensive rebounds, dished a few assists, had no turnovers, and severely outdueled a foul-addled Paul Pierce (17 minutes, 4 points on 2-for-7 shooting, two turnovers, five fouls).
  • Jason Sutherland was very Sutherlandy in this game, playing solid defense, turning the ball over a few times, and nailing some 3's.  His biggest contribution was the Sutherlandest play of the game: after Billy Thomas made a 3-ball to put Kansas up, 89-86, to start the second overtime, Mizzou worked the shot clock a little too far, and Sutherland was forced to yank up a shot from a) his hip, and b) so far in the right corner that he had to shoot it over the corner of the backboard.  Of course it went in.
  • This was a very Derek Grimmy line as well.  He somehow managed to avoid fouling out for 37 minutes while battling LaFrentz, and he found some time to step out and make four of eight 3-pointers.  Grimm was not a very strong post defender in his career, but boy, could he knock down the open three.
  • I still cannot decide if Tyron Lee is underrated for his impact in a Mizzou uniform, or if he is 100% properly rated.  The 6'4 guard averaged 9 PPG and 5 RPG as a junior JUCO transfer in 1996-97, then 10 PPG and 5 RPG as a senior.  Was he underrated because he was actually able to put the ball in the basket on a horrible offensive team (In 1997-98, Mizzou averaged 0.89 points per possession ... or, what Mizzou averaged against Nebraska last week ... think about that for a moment)?  Was he properly forgotten because he was a low-efficiency scorer on a low-efficiency team?  Regardless, he was strong in both the 1997 and 1998 Kansas home games, so that alone should draw him some praise.
  • L. Dee Murdock was never a difference maker at Mizzou -- after 1996-97, he would transfer to Illinois State, where he averaged 14 PPG and 7 RPG over two seasons -- but he made a randomly difference-making shot in this one.  With LaFrentz playing passive defense with four fouls and under a minute left in the second OT, Murdock made a little hook shot so natural and smooth that it made you wonder ... why in the hell couldn't he do that four or five more times per game??  It put Mizzou up, 94-92, before Vaughn answered with a runner of his own.
  • Ah, Dibi Ray.  He was outdueled (to say the least) by Vaughn, but he kept plugging away and moving forward.  His 48 minutes officially produced exactly 0.00 points of impact, but the fact that he was able to play 48 minutes at all was huge.  He grabbed enough rebounds to neutralize his turnovers as well.
  • says Danny Allouche started this game.  He even played 12 minutes!  I have no recollection of either of those tidbits.
  • Ah, Tate Decker.  The Flying Aardvark has two turnovers in one minute (presumably turning the ball over in both of his offensive possessions), then found a seat on the bench.  But he sure was good in that one game against Iowa in 1998, wasn't he...
Player Usage% Floor% Touches/
%Pass %Shoot %Fouled %T/O
Thames 28% 39% 2.7 29% 39% 20% 12%
Tate 19% 67% 3.5 63% 25% 12% 0%
Sutherland 23% 41% 3.2 48% 24% 20% 8%
Grimm 24% 39% 2.1 23% 50% 19% 8%
Lee 17% 45% 2.7 59% 30% 8% 3%
Murdock 23% 31% 2.9 47% 40% 13% 0%
Ray 7% 21% 1.2 63% 16% 0% 21%
Allouche 17% 21% 1.0 0% 75% 0% 25%
Decker 102% 0% 6.0 0% 0% 0% 100%


Peaking against Kansas does have a downside: it means you almost inevitably suffer a letdown afterward.  A few days after the No. 1 Jayhawks left town, the schedule sadistically sent No. 2 Wake Forest and Tim Duncan to town; Mizzou hung around for as long as possible but fell by eight points.  And then they lost five of six Big 12 games to finish the regular season a sad 12-16.  They came out of nowhere to upset Nebraska, Texas, and Oklahoma in the inaugural Big 12 Tournament before falling, exhausted, to Kansas by a tidy 27 points.

The 1996-97 season was the low point of what I define as Norm's final "era" (1995-99).  Mizzou finished 15-17, rebounded slightly (with a potentially worse team) with an NIT bid in 1998, then reached the NCAA Tournament in 1999.  But like 2005-06, a dreary, frustrating season had one great night when Kansas came to town.


AdjGS: a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It takes points, assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls into account to determine an individual's "score" for a given game.  The "adjustment" in Adjusted Game Score is simply matching the total game scores to the total points scored in the game, thereby redistributing the game's points scored to those who had the biggest impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

Usage%: This "estimates the % of team possessions a player consumes while on the floor" (via).  The usage of those possessions is determined via a formula using field goal and free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers.  The higher the number, the more prevalent a player is (good or bad) in a team's offensive outcome.  As you would expect, someone like Kim English has a high Usage%, while Steve Moore has an extremely low one.

Floor%: Via Floor % answers the question, "when Player X uses a possession, what is the probability that his team scores at least 1 point?".  The higher the Floor%, the more frequently the team probably scores when the given player is involved.

Touches/Possession: Using field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists and turnovers, Touches attempt to estimate "the number of times a player touched the ball in an attacking position on the floor."  Take the estimated touches and divide it by the estimated number of possessions for which a player was on the court, and you get a rough idea of how many times a player touched the ball in a given possession.  For point guards, you'll see the number in the 3-4 range.  For shooting guards and wings, 2-3.  For Steve Moore, 1.30.  You get the idea.

Anyway, using the Touches figure, we can estimate the percentage of time a player "in an attacking position" passes, shoots, turns the ball over, or gets fouled.