That's it, everybody. Mizzou's wrapped up their home slate for the 2014-2015 season. It's been a long one, and, in some ways, it's nice to be reaching the end. Soon, we can all move forward and try to forget all about Kim Anderson's first year as head coach of Missouri Basketball. Not quite yet, though. First, we've got to celebrate another win, another positive moment. Those moments have been too few and far between this year. Let's break it down while we've got the chance. To the numbers!
This season has been a rough one for everyone. The fans, the coaches, and the players, but no one more so than Keith Shamburger. It's well documented that Shamburger came to Mizzou in hopes of finally playing in the NCAA tournament. That didn't happen. It would have been easy to get frustrated and phone it in, or worse, rebel and create yet more problems. Keith didn't do that. He kept playing hard, and kept providing leadership, and, after Wes Clark went down, took over the ball handling duties almost completely, save for occasional spells from Tramaine Isabell (once he got out of the doghouse, anyway). He has made the best of a miserable situation. He hasn't played that many games at Mizzou Arena, and his year at Mizzou is unlikely to gain him a place among Mizzou's greats.
But he finished strong. On Tuesday night, he unsurprisingly led Mizzou in assists with 4. Somewhat less probably, he also led Mizzou in scoring with 21 points. Hilariously, he was also Mizzou's leading rebounder with 6 boards. As the game wound down, he also took on guarding KT Harrell, Auburn's best scorer, who is 5 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, and took him out of the equation. And, of course, he tracked down the ball after Montaque Gill-Caesar knocked it free from Cinmeon Bowers, dribbled calmly to the elbow, and drained a jump shot to win the game.
It's also notable that this is the first Mizzou game attended by Keith's mother. I bring this up so that I can share a story from canislupus, one of our commenters:
Clearly, all game Shamburger was the guy. I noticed quickly that he had a personal cheering section about 10 rows in front of me on the right. I figured, hey, Senior Night, maybe his family came to CoMo to support him? So after the game, once we finished slapping hands and whooping it up, I went against the tide of fans and instead of leaving, I went down to Keith’s fan club. I asked, "Is this the Shamburger family?" A very nice young couple they were in the Shamburger group and they pointed me to his mother, Conchita. I shook her hand and gave her a hug and told her to tell Keith that we appreciate him and that he was a real bright spot this season. I told her to thank him for being a Tiger. She hugged back and was wearing a warm and beautiful smile. But here’s the best part: in order to thank her and her son (through her), I had to wait in line. Turns out others were sharing the same sentiment with the kind of warmth and sincerity that makes me proud to support this team through thick and thin.
8 and 4
After racking up 20 points and 14 rebounds in Mizzou's first encounter with Auburn this year, Cinmeon Bowers, walking double double, managed to contribute a mere 8 points and 4 rebounds. Ryan Rosburg and Keanau Post only managed to contribute 9 points and 5 rebounds between them, but despite a great game from KT Harrell, their efforts kept Bowers from bullying his way to an Auburn win.
100% is the level of effort put forth by Namon Wright against Auburn. It didn't necessarily show up in the box score - although 10 points and 5 rebounds is nothing to sneeze at - but he clearly learned the right lesson after his monster game against Florida. A lot of guys might have taken a game like that and taken it as justification to go shot-crazy. He still shot a lot - second most on the team - but he wasn't taking bad shots. What he took from his game against Florida was that, when you work hard on defense and without the ball, you will be rewarded. Namon Wright is a freshman guard who came to Mizzou as a scorer. He was asked to defend one of the best scorers in the SEC for most of the game Tuesday. Obviously, there were misfires - Harrell scored plenty - but I watched him fight through screen after moving screen from Bowers, get beat by a great player, and, on the next possession, be right back, riding in Harrell's hip pocket. He also cuts harder and moves better without the ball than any of Mizzou's other wing players. The execution needs some work. But the effort is there, and that's great to see from a freshman, especially after a season like this.
There were 3 minutes and 6 seconds left when Malcolm Canada hit a layup to put Auburn up 61-54. Auburn never scored again. For the remaining 3 minutes of the game, Mizzou suddenly figured out how to play defense. They forced bad shots, crashed the boards for defensive rebounds, and racked up 3 times as many steals as they'd accumulated in the other 36:54 of game time, en route to a 9-0 run that won them the game.
1 more conference game this season. Win it, and we get to double digits in wins. It's a small victory, but that's the kind of season this is. Let's finish strong so we have something to build on.
There's not much left to say. Onward to Starkville, to Mississippi State, and then the SEC Tournament. Win on Saturday, and get some help from the other SEC Tigers, and we might not even finish last in conference play.