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Big 12 Conference

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tigers take league lead

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— Sandwiched between an emotionally charged victory against archrival Kansas University and a top-10 showdown with first place on the line, No. 4 Missouri faced a test of its collective focus.

The Tigers got a passing grade — barely.

Marcus Denmon scored 25 points, Ricardo Ratliffe added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 4 Mizzou claimed first place in the Big 12 by edging Oklahoma, 71-68, on Monday night.

“We understand that this game was just as important as the last one,” Denmon said. “Pretty much, we have a veteran group and we just wanted to make sure everybody came out and understood how important this game would be for us to play after a big win like the one at home against Kansas.”

Coach Frank Haith required his players to report to a hotel by 2 a.m. after their late-night victory against the then-No. 8 Jayhawks, trying to temper the celebration and get a head start on a road game less than 48 hours later against an opponent they had beaten by 38 points earlier this season.

Asked whether it was the right move, Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe looked at each other and didn’t say a word.

Finally, Denmon answered and got a pat on the back from his first-year coach.

“Whether I wanted to go to the hotel or not, I understood,” Denmon said. “I understood that it was a good decision by Coach and it seems like it helped us.”

The Tigers host Baylor on Saturday.

Oklahoma (13-10, 3-8) still had the ball with a chance to tie with 5 seconds left. Romero Osby was fouled with 2.5 seconds left and missed both free throws, and Steven Pledger missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer when the offensive rebound was tapped back to him.

Pledger slumped to the ground and put his hands over his face after his potential tying shot clanged off the rim to end the game. He stayed on the floor until two Missouri players and teammate Barry Honore came over to lift him up.

“It was perfect. The play was designed to miss the free throw and get the tip-out and we actually got the tip-out,” said Pledger, who led Oklahoma with 22 points.

“It was on line. It felt good when it left my hand. It didn’t go in.”

Sam Grooms had a career-high 17 points and matched his career-best with 10 assists, and Andrew Fitzgerald scored 12 points for the Sooners.

Michael Dixon chipped in 13 points for Missouri.

The Tigers (22-2, 9-2) moved a half-game ahead of No. 6 Baylor and No. 7 Kansas in the standings. Those teams meet Wednesday night for a chance to pull even with Missouri, and the Tigers host the Bears on Saturday.

This one was nothing like Oklahoma’s previous meeting with Missouri, won 87-49 by the Tigers on their home court. Missouri held a 15-rebound advantage in that one but Oklahoma came out ahead 36-22 on the boards on Monday.

The Tigers made up for it by holding a 28-12 scoring edge the paint and getting the only 10 fast-break points of the game.

“There’s no question you had to fight against all of that — the emotional win and then you have a game at your place where you just played incredible and they didn’t play their best game,” Haith said.

“So, you get a false sense. You worry about that false sense of what it’s going to be like when they get here.”

In Norman, they found a half-full Lloyd Noble Center and a student section with dozens of empty seats that had newspapers draped over the backs that the occupants would usually hold up during pregame introductions.

It still got loud when the Sooners pulled within 66-64 after Pledger’s 3-pointer from the left side with 3:33 to play.

Denmon followed with a jumper from the right side with 2 seconds left on the shot clock before Grooms and Pledger both went 1 for 2 at the free throw line to get Oklahoma back within two.

Kim English then hit a 3-pointer from the right side off Phil Pressey’s seventh assist to provide what proved to be the game-winner with 53.6 seconds left.

Fitzgerald hit two free throws for Oklahoma with 41.6 seconds remaining and Dixon missed on a drive to the basket to give the Sooners their last chance with 5 seconds left.

“We never let them take the lead, and that was a sign of a good team,” Haith said. “I think once they made runs, we executed when we needed to make a shot.”

Oklahoma connected on its first six shots, and eight of 10 to get out to a 17-12 lead before Missouri surged back with seven straight points to take its first lead. The Sooners had an answer a few minutes later, getting two jumpers from Fitzgerald and a 3 by Pledger to go back up 29-23 with 5:27 left before halftime.

At that point, it didn’t seem like the hotel strategy was working.

“I felt like we came with energy,” Denmon said, “but it has to be on both ends.”

As hot as Oklahoma started from the field, it was equally cold at the foul line — missing all seven of its free throws in the first half.

The Tigers finally took charge, scoring the final six points of the first half and the first six of the second to build a 42-33 lead after Denmon’s three free throws.

Dixon’s jumper from the right side of the key gave Missouri a momentary 10-point lead before Pledger hit consecutive 3-pointers to get the crowd involved. Oklahoma got within 55-52 after Grooms’ jumper from the right wing with 12 minutes left before coming up empty on three possessions with the chance to tie it.

“You want to win at this point in time,” Grooms said. “We just have certain plays and certain mishaps on the court that don’t allow us to do that right now. ... When we’re ready to do it, we’ll do it. It’s up to us at the end of the day.”

Comments

Benjamin Piehler 2 years, 2 months ago

Pointless article, tomorrow it's tied again.

http://espn.go.com/blog/sec/post/_/id/38525/blog-debate-can-mizzou-handle-the-sec

Interesting article, ESPN once again questioning Tigers performance next year (I cant wait...) Funny there was no similar article about A&M....

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TJ67 2 years, 2 months ago

If we win out......we win the B12 confenence title.......again. Up to us......

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chalkitup1811 2 years, 2 months ago

The fans don't want it! We hate Fizzou and we want nothing more than to see them suck air in the SEC. If Missouri wanted to keep this rivalry they shouldn't have bolted for the SEC.

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missouricat 2 years, 2 months ago

The experts were talking about the game today and said that the announcers Rece, Hubert, Digger and Jay were really having a good time prior to game time. Jay saying who couldn't win in a place like this. The experts all said that Missouri was the best team in the big 12 at the present time and that they would get a #1 seed in the tournment. We will have to see on that one, even though a good chance we could be. KU just let this one slip through their fingers in the last few mins. The experts said it was to bad that KU didn't want to keep the Border War going and that they should rethink it again. The fans want it but, why doesn't Bill Self want to keep it going?

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Sally Presson 2 years, 2 months ago

MU's video before the game was pitiful!!! they have nothing to brag about, even their banners were not championships, they were tournaments they attended. And they were excited about it all. Well, bless their pitiful hearts, they don't know any better. I was embarrassed for them when they ran the sorry video, it was loud but the content was pitiful. The fans got all worked up like it was something to get excited over. we need to get mad going to Baylor and beat the crap out of them, then on to K State and do the same, then we'll be back in business, because you know MU will lose a game or two they shouldn't.

Rock Chalk

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Mike Kendall 2 years, 2 months ago

I feel a lot better about the whole situation when last night, Mizzou had to sweat bullets when the OU player took the shot to almost tie it. Man, that shot looked good when it left his hand. Add to the fact that we pretty much handled OU at the Phog---gosh, dare I mention the February 25th matchup with the Tiggers. We have to win the game at Waco and Manhattan---no easy tasks. One game at a time, fellas!

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HawkfromHays 2 years, 2 months ago

They've played this type of game a bunch of times and won. Their luck will run out.

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justinryman 2 years, 2 months ago

Lets not forget, by wednesday they will be tied for 1st with somebody. Sure they will have the tie breaker at this point, but lets not get ahead of ourselves with this headline.

It would be like if the Cubs win the 1st game of the season while everyone else in their division loses. The cubs are in 1st the Cubs are in 1st. C'mon man!!!!!

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jhawkrulz 2 years, 2 months ago

Did anyone else seem a little embarrassed for Missouri when they showed their trophy case during the game? Personally, my trophy case from high school was on par for that one.

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jhawkrulz 2 years, 2 months ago

You know some teams actually have to celebrate that they are in the lead.

Others celebrate that they actually win the championships.

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Dan Pawlowski 2 years, 2 months ago

They supposedly have a better team and they barely won a game on their pathetic court. We make a couple free throws and we win a game that we controlled for most of it. My prediction for the game in our house is pain. A lot of pain in the form of an industrial strength can of Larryville Ass Whup.

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nuleafjhawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Now there's a headline you don't see every day.

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Ron Franklin 2 years, 2 months ago

i'm still bitter about the KU/MU foul differential.

did you know it was the biggest differential in all of mens basketball this year?

did you notice the foul differential for MU/OU? 1 foul.

Save your breath, don't castigate me for whining. This is my way of therapeutic pouting :)

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itsalwayssunnyinlarry 2 years, 2 months ago

how is it a big win if you're ranked higher and at home? isn't that expected?

I'm still laughing at the shirts MU produced to celebrate a regular season home win.

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Billy Derringer 2 years, 2 months ago

i think just a score would of worked, i stopped reading after i saw the score as im sure most of us will,........................ F*CK muzzoo

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