For five years, Missouri basketball had undergone a slow and painful march from mediocrity to irrelevance. Frank Haith left the program scandal-ridden and without any sort of roster continuity. And while Kim Anderson was able to stabilize the academic situation, he never found the sort of success he had in his time as a Missouri Tiger. The Tigers had won an average of nine games over the previous three seasons and fan interest was in the doldrums.
Of course, you’d have never known it if you entered Mizzou Arena on November 10, 2017.
After a whirlwind offseason in which Missouri hired a new coach, landed the country’s best overall recruit and managed a top five recruiting class, Missouri opened the 2017-2018 campaign to a sellout crowd at Mizzou Arena. It was the debut of Cuonzo Martin, the Porter brothers and Jeremiah Tilmon. To complete the narrative circle, former Big 12 foe Iowa State was in town.
The final score showed a convincing, if not dominant 15-point win over the Cyclones. But no one who watched that game — especially not those who were there — ever had any doubts as to who would come out on top. Rather than a season-opening basketball game, the evening played out like a two and a half hour party. Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson shot a combined 38 percent from three and scored 26 combined points; Jeremiah Tilmon had 14 points and seven rebounds in his debut; fan favorite Kevin Puryear led the team in scoring and nearly notched a double-double.
More exciting than all of the on-court excellence? The crowd nearly blew the damn roof off. After years of apathy, Missouri fans showed out in full force that November night. Every basket sent minor shockwaves throughout the city. When Michael Porter Jr. was announced in the starting lineup, it felt like atmosphere was fracturing. And despite the quick exit for the local star, nothing could tame the arena’s spirits.
The season wouldn’t turn out to be the magical whirlwind it seemed it would be. Missouri did return to the NCAA Tournament, but would only get a handful of minutes from MPJ due to a devastating back injury. A handful of transfers would put a dent in the feel-good aura surrounding the team. But for 40 minutes of game time in early November, Missouri basketball came roaring back from the depths, and the fans were right alongside them.