Welp, they certainly don’t make it easy.
With just over 10 minutes to go, Missouri took a 55-45 lead on a pair of free throws from Dru Smith. The Tigers looked completely in control with a double digit lead.
It was gone in just over a minute.
But Missouri never lost its composure. It could have when Breein Tyree made shot after shot for Ole Miss. It could have after a string of calls by the referees made Missouri’s players so clearly want to scream in anger. “During that timeout where he (Tyree) came out and hit the three in transition, we all went to the bench and were like ‘we’re good, we’ll be alright, and just keep pushing,’” Dru Smith said. “It would have been easy to hang your head.”
The mental strength of this team has shown in the past couple of weeks. In the pressure-packed final two minutes, Missouri made the shots it needed to.
It did not turn the ball over on any pressure-filled inbounds play, nor did it miss any free throws. And when Ole Miss hoisted and missed the final shot at the buzzer, the Missouri players screamed out in celebration for a win they knew they deserved.
13-13. 5-8 in the SEC. Back-to-back conference victories, and all the momentum in the world heading into the finale of the regular season. Kudos.
If the Mizzou Arena crowd was any indication, the Missouri fanbase has begun to believe in this team again. Big time. During certain moments, it felt like the crowd was quite literally fighting for the players.
Just ask Xavier Pinson, who had a mob of students waiting for a photo op as he walked off the court, a huge smile on his face.
Pinson played fantastic against Auburn Saturday, and decided to follow it up with an even more outstanding performance.
He outdueled his Ole Miss counterpart Breein Tyree with a 32 point performance that saw him make all four of his three point attempts and turn the ball over just twice. The match up between guards was one to remember. Tyree scored 29 points for himself and nearly won the game for his Rebels all by himself.
“We were kind of trading baskets,” Pinson said. “We had to try our best to get a score-stop-score situation. I was over there with my teammates like ‘we just gotta get stops.’”
Missouri has certainly had its struggles executing in the final minutes under Cuonzo Martin, but Tuesday night was perfection. Missouri went eight of eight from the free throw line, broke the press and inbounded the ball cleanly on each possession.
Six of those free throws were made by Pinson, including the final two to give Missouri a 71-68 lead. Tyree’s final shot at the buzzer was not close.
So now, the question that has crept every fan’s mind during the past few weeks: If Missouri plays like this to close the regular season, how many games can it win?
The meat of the schedule is out of the way, and of Missouri’s final five games, just one team has a winning conference record. Martin spoke postgame of the respect the players on the team have for each other, and the effort the team plays with every game.
“They’ve grown,” Cuonzo Martin said. “It’s a beautiful thing when you grow in the midst of struggles. That says a lot about them, their characters as young guys.”
If the team has indeed turned the corner, Missouri fans may be in for an exciting finish to the season.