The 79-76 victory over Arkansas on Wednesday night was the best win of the season for Mizzou’s energetic, unyielding and loads-of-fun basketball team. You’ll notice that I didn’t say that this was MU’s finest performance of the season. Or the most dominant showing. Or the most prestigious 40 minutes of success in the current campaign.

This triumph was special and vital because Mizzou needed it. Really needed it. The Tigers had lost two in a row, had dropped to 2-3 in SEC play, and were on the brink of falling down again. Lose to Arkansas, and the conference record is 2-4 with one of the top teams in the nation, Alabama, rolling into Columbia on Saturday. And there were the on-tilt Tigers at Mizzou Arena, down by 10 with just over five minutes remaining in the second half.

This conflict was edgy and crazy and exhausting. The teams slugged it out for a combined 55 fouls, and the voluminous free-throw shooting became a determining factor in this free-for-all.

Wrestlemania … Whistlemania …

A wild game … with referees gone wild.

Missouri defiantly refused to succumb, or weaken, or allow the Razorbacks walk out of the place with a take-home victory in hand. The tenacious Tigers put Arkansas away with a 22-9 push that ended this night of fury. Missouri toweled off and cooled down with a 14-4 overall record. And at 3-3 they’re in the middle of a giant jam in the SEC.

From a Missouri standpoint, there was much to like. Start with the team’s competitive wiring and smart decisions by coach Dennis Gates, who effectively expanded his bench and churned many different personnel mixes.

Then marvel at the deep Mizzou bench that outscored the Arkansas reserves 48-16. Nine players clocked at least 10 minutes, and nine contributed points. Missouri’s advantage in manpower made a difference as the second half raged on. Over the final 20 minutes, Mizzou made 59 percent of their shots from the floor; Arkansas connected for only 39%.

Look at all of the damage when the Tigers flexed and extended their sharp claws to jab and scratch Arkansas into 21 turnovers – 13 coming on stinging steals. Missouri finished with a massive 31-12 edge over the Razorbacks in points scored on turnovers.

Appreciate the way the Tigers stopped hoisting so many three-point shots in the second half, choosing to take the short path to the basket – to whirl inside for easier two-point scores or to draw hard-contact fouls. In the second half MU went to the line 28 times, and knocked down 21 free-throws that accounted for 46.6 percent of their points during the final 20 minutes.

It looked bad there for a while, but eventually Mizzou’s strenuous effort and physicality wore Arkansas down. Down the stretch the Tigers made 15 of 17 free throws, a clear sign of how smoothly they handled pressure. The Tigers made 30 of 40 free throws overall.

Noah Carter (illness) didn’t play Wednesday. Other than that, we pretty much got our first chance to see Gates’ complete team. Mo Diarra has entered the competition, bringing his length and the potential to disrupt with close-to-the-rim defense. Isiaih Mosley returned Wednesday to reset his season and contributed key points. Freshman Aidan Shaw is advancing, maturing, and scoring. There’s a lot more to come.

The Tigers can surround their best all-around player, Kobe Brown, with a variety of players that have a variety of skills. And though this was only one game, Missouri’s defense iced Wednesday’s victory. The Tigers still have a lot of work to do on the defensive end – if they don’t get the steals and the high-turnover count, they’re vulnerable – but there’s time to tighten up.

First things first. Missouri needed a victory. Needed it for the SEC standings, and for their confidence, and to stand up instead of sinking again. The Tigers did it the right way. They stepped to Arkansas to rip the ball – and a win – right out of the visitor’s hands. The Tigers took their season back.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at or the 590 app.

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