Allen Fieldhouse was built for games like this.
During the nine full seasons that Kansas went without facing its historical rival from across the state line, seldom did the name of an opponent alone drum up the type of atmosphere that makes college basketball, and this venue in particular, memorable. Outside of Kentucky running onto James Naismith Court to face the Jayhawks, nothing sets a KU home crowd off quite like Missouri.
Thanks to time healing some old SEC exit wounds, KU basketball versus Mizzou returned from its nine-year hiatus on Saturday. And KU’s fans ate up every second of it.
Between the pandemic diminishing crowds to more of an afterthought status for a full season and the renewal of the Border Showdown happening in Lawrence instead of Columbia, Missouri, the scene actually lived up to the hype — even if the 102-65 rout robbed it of drama or status as an all-time classic.
As much as senior Ochai Agbaji, junior Christian Braun and sophomore Dajuan Harris and their teammates deserve credit for executing on the floor, even Bill Self admitted the 16,300 in attendance deserved an assist for setting the tone. Self acknowledged that the maniacs who spent the afternoon jumping and screaming and occasionally yelling not so PG things at the Tigers actually had a lot to do with the Jayhawks’ energy and focus.
“It was great to start,” Self said of the Border Showdown’s return. “The crowd was amped and we were amped. Great atmosphere. We played extremely well, so that made it more fun — at least for us.”
This was a two-hour long party if you showed up wearing crimson and/or blue.
Though the game lacked entertainment value for any neutral observer tuning in on ESPN, it had everything KU fans who love to hate Mizzou had been missing all these years.
KU’s student section was littered with signs like, “Mizzou Hates Christmas.” The rabid fans got to jeer a Tigers coach for the first time in nearly a decade, and delighted in watching Cuonzo Martin get whistled for a technical foul.
And as loud as they got to erupt following a 3-pointer from Harris or Agbaji or Braun’s hammer dunk in the first half, they also got to boo their hearts out. When a replay on the video board showed that Mizzou big man Jordan Wilmore gave a get-off-me arm extension in the general direction of Mitch Lightfoot’s head, the fans showered their rivals with boos, and then got to celebrate the technical foul that followed.
The game turned into the type of bloodbath that ravenous, KU-loving, Mizzou-loathing fans live for. They got to revel in the Tigers’ misfortunes. The student section got to swoon for mulleted cult hero walk-on Chris Teahan with minutes left in the second half instead of seconds. And they got to explode when super-senior Teahan released a pure 3-pointer to put KU over the century mark.
Agbaji, Bruan and Harris said they never had heard the fieldhouse as loud as it was Saturday.
“You play off of it,” Agbaji said of the impact the mob had on the Jayhawks. “But coach was talking to us, you kind of already have that energy going into the game, even in warmups. So you kind of have to find that happy medium of being composed and having the energy, playing with energy.”
KU’s fans and students don’t have to worry about finding that equilibrium. And both Agbaji and Braun expressed their appreciation for the raucous student section in particular.
Braun said: “Some of those students camped out for a week to watch us play. So they’re passionate. We’ve got to give them something in return. We appreciate that and all that they do for us, so that passion and energy was matched.”
This rivalry is so good that a game that didn’t even count in October of 2017 — an exhibition inside then-Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo. — had the vibes of a battle in late February.
Now the games count again. And Kansas, Missouri and college basketball are better for it.
And the KU fan base can once again scratch that notorious black and gold itch.