Editor's Note: Hey! Long-time, no-talk-to. My bad, it is pretty bad that I haven't put anything up since that dreadful Monday night. However, tomorrow should have everything-and-more, so I'll try and make it up to you.
Five minutes, fifty-nine seconds are on the clock. Missouri has narrowed the gap down to six, off of five consecutive points. More than anything, Kansas just needs to hit a bucket. To stem the tide, to quiet the crowd, to halt momentum. And, as he's done all year, Tyrel Reed found himself wide open in the corner. His nickname ain't Rely Ice for nothing, folks; dude has ice in his veins. As clutch as clutch can be. He's hit big, huge, clutch shots all year, whenever we've needed one.
But, Brady Morningstar, being the awesome do-it-all player that he is, grabs the offensive rebound. The ball works around, quickly, and just ten seconds later Tyrel Reed is found in a near-identical situation.
This time, Missouri grabs the ball, takes it down the floor, and Demarre Carroll hits a three. All of a sudden, it's 54-51, as opposed to 57-48. The crowd is jumping up-and-down, people are screaming, the players are pumping each other up. It was diastrous.
We never really recovered from all of that nonsense, really. Never could overcome all of that intensity and passion and Kansas hatred. We had the chances. But, in the most hostile environment we've played in all year (it wasn't even close, either), we crumbled at the end. It wasn't just two Relly Ice misses that let us lose. It was a pair of Sherron Collins free throws, it was missing six shots in a row to close out the game (before Mario Little drained one with 31 seconds left), it was 27 turnovers.
We're a young team. And hell, Missouri is a damn good basketball team; in all honesty, objectively, just as good as us. This really isn't a surprise, at all. Coming in, I expected to lose, you expected to lose, we all expected to fall short. It's not surprising. And yet, we could have won. That is what made it so difficult to take, so heartbreaking. We were right there.
But, for the first time since way-back-when on January 10th up in East Lansing, our youth really showed up. We showcased the rookie mistakes, the inexperience, the stupid plays that make coaches lose their hair.
It's OK, though. That's what makes college basketball so great; a season isn't defined in a single game. We can absorb the loss, learn from it, improve upon the freshman stupidity and get better.
- It's really hard to pick an MVP for this. For losses, save for an incredible performance, it seems silly to pick one. Still, some people had better games than other. Really, though, I'll give the award to Travis Releford. In only 8 minutes, he scored 9 big points, grabbed 2 boards and played really sweet D. I called for it then, and I'll say it again now; he should have been in the game at the end. While Tyrel and Brady were struggling, big-time, Travis was in his natural element; an up-and-down, up-tempo affair. He looked the less stressed out of anyone, preferring the helter-skelter turnover-heavy stuff to the coach-approved halfcourt game. No, for real. In his game action, he played better than anyone. Hopefully, he sees more time Saturday against K-State in what should be another up-tempo game.
- The other freshman guard, Tyshawn Taylor, was outstanding as well. The first time the Tigers cut it oh-so-close, T-Squared and Releford went on an 8-0 run by themselves to extend the lead. Taylor scored even more points (11), and was really good offensively. He did have bunches-and-bunches of trouble with the press, picking up 6 turnovers, but he made enough positive plays to overshadow that, for me. The good with the bad, the story of the season. And, while I do understand NCHCBS's decision to simply stick with the more even-keeled Tyrel and Brady, I think we needed more volatility in there at the end. We needed someone to actively step up and take charge and do something about the Tigers' surge. You know, what Sherron's done all season long, without fail?
- But, for some reason, Sherron Collins didn't take charge. Didn't grab the reigns. For the first time all season, he kind of just reverted back to last season Sherron, where he was just one of five uber-talented players who were all capable of taking the open shot. Now, sure, this at least proves that he has developed confidence in his teammates. That's the silver lining, I suppose. His shot just wasn't on (at all) yet again, and maybe he just didn't have the confidence in himself. Who knows. But, it was definitely odd to see Sherron sitting over in the corner, not actively calling for the ball or anything. Definitely not the Sherron we all saw in November, where he was calling for the ball at any sign of trouble. Another six turnovers from Sherron, too.
- Cole Aldrich was the definition of good-and-bad. The story of a young team, and as much as we all forget Cole is quite young too, is to do some things really well, and others not-so-hot. On defense, Cole was a freaking beast, picking rebound-after-rebound (15 in all, three times what anyone else had on our team) and piling up five rejections. He altered every shot within 10 feet, and altered the entire Missouri offense. Absolutely incredible performance. But then, on the offensive side, he was consistently confused by the double-and-triple teams Missouri threw at him. They did it a little abnormally, but nothing so out-of-this-world that it should have confused him so much. I'm sure the mask gives him a bitch-of-a-time, and that is a legitimate excuse. Still, though, he got caught without a place to go far too often. And, when he had an open look, he couldn't get them to go. If I had to pick one, I'd probably rather him play good D; and seriously, his D was freakin' incredible. But his offense has a long ways to go before he is NBA ready.
- I'm not willing to slide him up above Tyrel Reed on the Clutch Ladder yet, but Mario Little certainly is clutch. The shot he hit was huge, and gave me a sliver of hope in a game I was otherwise all-but-writing-off. He turned the ball over far too much, like everyone else on the team, and struggled against the bigger Mizzou frontline. But, he is money with that elbow shot, and is a perfect offensive complement to Cole and Sherron when they're "on".
- Well, in a terrible place to have it, that was an old-school Morris Twins performance. Marcus' technical has drawn all of the ire, and for good reason considering he intentionally brushed shoulders with a freakin' referee, but his eleven game minutes hurt us a helluva lot more. And Kieffer's ten weren't any more productive. Here was their combined line: 21 minutes, 1-7, 4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 7 (!!) fouls. Disaster. And I love them, too, as all of you know. Love 'em to death. Am absolutely positive that they're going to become damn productive players in the future, probably by the end of this year (hell, they were playing incredible basketball for a decent two-or-three week stretch, there, before Monday night). They'll get there eventually. Just settle down, realize they aren't Darrell Arthur, and have some patience. Seriously.
- Only two people left to talk about, and I was way down on both of their performances. Both Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed played really good D, particularly the former. It's what they do, for the most part (now that Relly Ice has improved enough to play it), along with the long-ball. Well, besides that absolutely incredible possession from Tyrel (two offensive rebounds and a trey), they were pretty bad on offense. They shot a combined 2-9 from three; that, right there, is a huge reason why we lost. We mentioned it in the open, but the entire second half we were waiting for that huge, clutch three to take the pressure off. It never fell. Neither played a terrible game, sure, and both still had plenty of positives. But their three-point shooting absolutely killed us, and it really hurts our offense whenever both can't knock down the open threes.
Before we leave, I just want to compliment Missouri. They area really, really good team. I still think we're the better team, but I can certainly buy both arguments, and the stats actually have them ahead of us. But that isn't the point; what is the point is that, really, they deserved to win Monday night. Congrats, Tiger fans. Oh, and damn good crowd, too. Holy shit, was that place rockin'. Allen Field House loud, I'm telling you. That surely had a huge role with our complete trainwreck of a final six minutes.