Tuesday, March 27, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Missouri 64, Colorado 62

(This team was obviously both gassed and still roughed up from the Nebraska game the week before. Meanwhile, I love how the Trib columnist--Scott Cain--actually complained about the pro-Mizzou officiating in the last story...pretty funny...)

March 11, 1994

KANSAS CITY -- Melvin Booker is coming out of the deal with much more than a free lunch. That was part of the package yesterday when Booker accepted the Big Eight Player of the Year award downtown before Missouri worked out at Kemper Arena in advance of the Big Eight Tournament. The No. 3 Tigers (24-12) played Colorado today at 12:10.

“I had a nice, little steak,” Booker said. Although he considered himself an All-Big Eight player coming into this, his senior season, Booker had no idea what all was on the menu for him.

“Coming in, nobody thought I'd be Big Eight Player of the Year,” Booker said. “It means a lot to me because that's something I work hard for. I work hard so that in the end, people will say `He's one of the best players in the conference.' That's the main thing about it. All the hard work paid off.”

While the award has gone to teammates Doug Smith and Anthony Peeler previously, Booker is a different kind of Tiger Player of the Year.

“I don't think I'm in a class with them,” Booker said. “They averaged 23-24 points a game. “They just took over games whenever they wanted to. I'm not that type of player.”

Lamont Frazier and Jevon Crudup, both of whom have played and lived with Booker for four years, say he's not all that different from Smith and Peeler.

“They all work hard. They're all unselfish ballplayers,” Frazier said. “The thing that stands out most about Melvin is he's quiet. There's no way to know what he's thinking.”

Booker's actions speak well for him. “When a job needs to be done, he seems to be the one that steps up and makes those big plays for us,” Crudup said.

Booker's best credential for claiming Player of the Year is found in Missouri's 14-0 conference record.

“It's a team thing for me,” Booker said. “If it was up to me, the whole team would get MVP.

“I need my teammates out there,” he said. “As long as we were winning. I thought if we were the ballclub to win it, they'd probably pick somebody off our team. I was playing consistent all year. That's what I've been trying to do.”

His stealth candidacy took even himself a bit by surprise.

“He's not awed by it,” Stewart said. “I don't think he's overwhelmed.

“It's more or less kind of slipped up on him.”

If it's slipped up on Booker, imagine the reaction in his native state ofMississippi.

Arthur Hayes, Booker's coach at Moss Point High School, said a few weeks ago that the coaches who didn't act on his recommendation of Booker are “probably kicking themselves in the butt right now.”

“I hope they are,” Booker said. “I really thought I was a good player coming out of high school. The home teams just weren't giving me a chance. Missouri gave me a chance, and I made the best of it.”

Booker said none of the state's “Big Three,” -- Mississippi, Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi -- were interested in him.

As for the players that were hot prospects when he was a senior?

“Some of the guys I don't even remember,” he said. “I don't even know what they're doing right now. They probably know what I'm doing right now.”
March 12, 1994

KANSAS CITY--Missouri won its 19th consecutive game in Big Eight competition yesterday, but the Tigers looked very mortal in doing so.

Late-December addition Paul O'Liney made two free throws with three-tenths of a second on the clock to give the top-seeded Tigers a 64-62 victory over Colorado in the first game of the Big Eight Tournament at Kemper Arena.

"It was a long day," Missouri coach Norm Stewart said. It could have made for a short stay here and a long wait for tomorrow's NCAA pairings announcement.

The Tigers were locked in with the Buffaloes throughout the game. The biggest lead either team had was seven points by Missouri, that just once and only briefly midway through the second half. It conjured up black-and-gold shades of 1990, the last time Colorado and Missouri met here. Colorado won that game, the only time in Big Eight Tournament history that the No. 8 seed has won. Missouri went on to a harder fall, losing to Northern Iowa as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That Colorado upset went into overtime, and Buffaloes coach Joe Harrington thought this one was headed there, too.

Taking over with 33 seconds after Colorado center Ted Allen banked in a three pointer to tie the score at 62, Missouri had the chance to take the last shot with the 35second clock turned off.

Booker drove to the right side of the lane, went up and was stuffed by Colorado freshman Fred Edmonds.

"In that situation, I wanted to take the shot," Booker, the Big Eight Player of the Year, said. "I had a good opportunity at it, but, I think it was Edmonds, came over and did a good job of blocking the shot."

In the scramble for the ball, Allen was called for a foul, his fifth, sending O'Liney to the line.

With a one-and-one opportunity, O'Liney stepped up and made the first one. Missouri then called timeout. Stewart wanted O'Liney to miss his second free throw to start the clock and give the Buffaloes (10-17) no chance to set up a play.

"I tried to throw a line drive so it could hit the front of the rim," O'Liney said. "But it went over and went in, so we had to deal with that."

Rich Frandeen's inbounds pass went about 70 feet in the air. Mark Dean caught it but the shot he got off came after the buzzer and went off the rim.

"I don't feel like we got away with one," Tiger senior Lamont Frazier said. "I feel like we didn't play well."

"It really came down to they made a few more free throws than we did," Harrington said. "We shot the exact same number." Missouri made 15 of 17, including the one O'Liney wanted to throw back. Colorado hit nine of 17. The Buffaloes missed six of their last seven.

Statistically, the Tigers were practically in a dead heat with the Buffaloes. That's not heartening, especially when Colorado's Donnie Boyce, the Big Eight's top scorer, left the game with an ankle injury with 16:38 left in the first half and CU trailing 8-2. He did not return.

Colorado played better without him.

"I'm glad that our players believed we could win, even with Donnie out," Harrington said. "No one in that place thought we'd even keep that close, I'm sure, when he went out."

The Buffaloes made seven of 12 three point attempts. Four were by guard Pete Hefty, who came off the bench to replace Boyce. Three were by Allen, Colorado's 6-foot-10 center.

"They made some shots today that weren't exactly what you call textbook," Stewart said.

That opened up things underneath for forward Dean, who led all scorers with 22 points, 14 in the second half.

Jevon Crudup, who tied Booker to lead Missouri with 17 points and had a game high 10 rebounds, had a tough job.

"I was trying to help down on Dean," Crudup said. "It gave," Allen "more room to shoot the three."

In some ways, the Tigers did not display the form that won them the top seed. They were out rebounded and outshot.

They did win when they had a lead in the final minutes, as they have all season. Colorado led three times, all by two points in the first half. O'Liney closed the first-half scoring with two free throws on a one-and-one for a 29-26 Missouri lead.

The Buffaloes tied it five times in the second half, the last on Allen's banked-in three pointer.

"We'll find a way to win," Frazier said.

"We're confident because we have so much experience. We've been around so many situations such as that, it's almost part of the game for us now."
March 12, 1994

KANSAS CITY--Part of what has made Missouri next to bullet-proof this season is its unflagging ability in late-game situations to maintain poise then prevail.

The Tigers are 12-1 in games decided by eight points or less, six of those victories by margins of three points or less, after swiping a 64-62 victory from Colorado yesterday in the Big Eight Tournament opener.

"We're going to have to try to stay away from those" close games "because we'll give somebody a heart attack," senior guard Melvin Booker said.

This one never should have reached cardiac proportions, though.

Colorado played a part in making it a last-second affair, but attribute most of the dramatics to the Tigers, who shot just 40 percent and were out rebounded by three.

Most curious was the stationary status of senior center Chris Heller, last year's tournament MVP. Coach Norm Stewart did not play Heller, keeping with the regular-season pattern.

But MU was without forward Marlo Finner, who has been suspended for the week. Finner usually spells Jevon Crudup.

Colorado's vulnerability was glaring --only three players on the bench after an injury to star guard Donnie Boyce.

Stewart chose not to try to wear down the Buffaloes with a deep bench. He substituted three times in the second half, only once after the 13:35 mark. MU got just 12 bench points.

Still, mission accomplished, right? They won.

So should a first-round Big Eight Tournament game create much concern among fans who have visions of NCAA grandeur? Maybe not—if the Tigers can eradicate the germs that poisoned their play.

No team wants to enter the NCAA Tournament playing poorly. But this program especially should be concerned about staggering into the dance. Hey, the history there is brutal--six first-round exits in eight NCAA Tournaments since 1983.

This game might have added to Missouri's late-season legacy were it not for two blown officiating calls in the last minute.

With 50 seconds left, Crudup toppled CU's Ted Allen on a pivot move, then scored. No call. Missouri led 62-59.

After the 6-foot-11 Allen banked in a three-pointer to tie it, Booker worked for a game-winning shot. But CU's Fred Edmonds delivered a monster block. Bodies looked like projectiles darting for the loose ball, and official James Armstrong whistled Allen for a foul on MU's Paul O'Liney.

Good call if fouling a player's shoelaces is in the rules. Did this guy call the Fifth Down game, too?

O'Liney makes the free throws with less than a second on the clock, and it's over.

The scramble leading to the last foul "was good hustle by both teams," Allen said. "That's where" the officials should have left it."

Isn't there some unwritten official's creed about no blood, no foul late in close games?

Not here. Not yesterday, not on a day that the Buffies made like party-crashers despite losing Boyce to an ankle injury four minutes into the game.

"When Boyce went out of there, they all stepped up," Crudup said.

Several CU shots fell that had no business being near the rim. They were the kind of shots that you can't do much about. But Missouri's plight reached beyond fluky buckets.

"Part of it, I think, Missouri probably didn't get up for us," CU coach Joe Harrington said. "They don't have a lot of respect for Colorado."

MU coach Norm Stewart, whose interview followed Harrington's, took exception: "I'm glad that I didn't hear what Coach Harrington said. Joe's a good, young coach in this league. But I think guys come in here in Joe's position, and that's tough always win or lose. He was probably a little excited. You give him an hour or two and he might not say the same thing he said in here that you guys feed on, which is fine. That's your job.

"We have all the respect in the world for their ball club."

Sure, the Tigers respect them, but this didn't have anything to do with respect. The word is so often misused in these situations. Harrington was referring to motivation, not respect, and let's face it: Colorado is a bad team and would have been a difficult team to stir any opponents' emotions, particularly one like Missouri that already knows it's probably going to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Nobody's saying they must play like a No. 1 seed today against Nebraska. But a crisp game might go a long way in reducing heart attack risks next week.