Tuesday, March 13, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Missouri 89, Nebraska 73

(Remember the days when we were on Big Monday more than once a year?)

January 23, 1994

of the Tribune's staff

After tonight, the Missouri Tigers will have time on their hands. How much of a lead in the Big Eight men's basketball race they'll have to spend it with depends on what happens in an ESPN “Big Monday” game against Nebraska.

After tonight, the Tigers won't play again until they're home against Kansas (17-2, 2-1) in next week's “Big Monday” game.

The Tigers moved to 4-0 in the Big Eight and made themselves the last unbeaten team in conference play Saturday at Oklahoma State. They returned to Columbia before coming here today.

Fresh after their victory at Stillwater, Okla., where they came from 15 points down in the second half, the Tigers were in high spirits.

Senior guard Melvin Booker joked that the Tigers would not need a plane for the trip home. “We can fly on our own,” he said. “We're alone in first place in the conference. That helps out a lot.”

In coach Norm Stewart's previous 26 seasons on the job, Missouri has started 4-0 five times. The results were four of Stewart's seven conference championships and one second-place finish.

The last time Missouri won at Stillwater was 1990, the last time it won the conference title and the last time it started this well.

Missouri's 73-68 victory was just the fourth loss for OSU at Gallagher-Iba Arena in coach Eddie Sutton's 50 games there.

“How many people are going to come in here and win?” Stewart said. “It's hard.”

The Tigers have fared better here. The Cornhuskers (12-3, 2-1) have not beaten Missouri in Lincoln in consecutive seasons since 1978 and '79. Last year, Nebraska swept the home-and-away series with Missouri, the first time it had taken two from the Tigers since 1974. Both victories were by one point, helping knock the Tigers down to 5-9 in the Big Eight after a 3-0 start.

The Cornhuskers have been off since Wednesday when they lost 86-81 at Colorado. That ended an 11-game winning streak.

Not having so much as a share of the Big Eight title in 44 years, Nebraska feels this game is vital to staying in the race.

“It's a huge game for us,” Nebraska's leading scorer, Eric Piatkowski, told the Omaha World-Herald. “We can't afford to lose two in a row.”

While not understating the value of a victory at OSU, Stewart isn't getting too far ahead.

“That affords you then a chance for a blip on the screen later on sometime if that happens,” he said. “You can't do anything until about 10-11 games, sometimes 13. You know if you win 13 you've got a tie. I think. Somebody told me that once.”
January 25, 1994

of the Tribune's staff

Things are only getting better for the Missouri Tigers. The Tigers went small and won big last night, beating Nebraska 89-73 at the Devaney Center.

They wrapped up the game and a 5-0 Big Eight record to take home for a “Big Monday” matchup with Kansas, the conference champion the last three years.

Jevon Crudup stayed on the bench with three fouls to open the second half. Freshman forward Kelly Thames was the Tigers' big man at 6-foot-7, and guard Mark Atkins joined starters Melvin Booker, Lamont Frazier and Julian Winfield.

Missouri turned a 45-38 halftime lead into a second-half choke hold on the Cornhuskers (12-4, 2-2). Atkins opened with a three-pointer 20 seconds into the half, taking the lead to 48-38. Nebraska made up one point before being blasted out.

Booker finished with 22 points, Atkins 20.

The Tigers have won three games in six days and are 3-0 on the road in the Big Eight.

“It's like a guy playing cards or whatever,” Missouri coach Norm Stewart said. “If you're winning, nobody ever wants to go home then.”

The Cornhuskers folded early.

“We didn't do anything right tonight,” Nebraska senior Eric Piatkowski said. Only forward Terrance Badgett, the game's leading rebounder with 10 and the only Cornhusker to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, would seem exempt from the teamwide self-indictment.

The Tigers plainly outhustled the Cornhuskers, who were trying to get a lift at home after losing at Colorado on Wednesday.

“We've got to pick up our intensity if we want to do anything in the Big Eight,” Piatkowski said. “It's embarrassing, but we can regroup and come back.”

Not last night.

The Cornhuskers, who play with three guards and no center, don't lay claim to much of an inside game. Last night they threw up a season-high 28 three-point shots and made two, tying a season low.

Missouri made seven of its 24 three-point attempts.

The Tigers (14-2) re-entered The Associated Press Top 25 at No. 24 yesterday afternoon.

Two weeks ago, after entering the Top 25 with a tie for 25th, the Tigers lost at Notre Dame. Since then they've won four in a row, all in the conference, three on the road.

Booker said the Tigers handled their ranking, “A lot better than last time.

“Now we've got a week off. We'll be in there next week.”

The Tigers had a different look for this game, televised on ESPN. They didn't need a comeback. They took the lead for good at 27-25 with 6:51 left in the first half. Atkins scored on a layup assisted by Frazier, who tied his career high with six.

The onesidedness peaked at 88-60 when Booker made a three with 4:02 remaining.
After drawing within 68-56 with 9:20 left, the Cornhuskers went almost three minutes without scoring. It was more than five minutes until the next field goal, made by Badgett to begin Nebraska's 13-1 salvage run toward respectability in the last four minutes.

“Defense was good, forcing the turnovers,” Stewart said. “We got to the boards real good offensively, and we had that good run midway through. That's the ballgame.

“We showed a little fatigue. When we got the combination that was really going, we wanted to just stay with them because it looked like that was going to be able to win the ballgame for us.”

Neither Piatkowski nor Crudup scored in the second half. Each scored nine points in the first half.

Transfer Paul O'Liney played 26 minutes, 16 in the second half and showed he can do more than shoot.

He scored nine points, matching his MU high set against Mercer in his debut game.

O'Liney estimated that he's at 65 to 75 percent of his full self.

“I'm starting to understand what Coach wants me to do more,” he said. “I feel comfortable now.”

A season-high crowd of 14,446 saw Nebraska's largest home loss since Feb. 21, 1990, an 88-66 thumping by Oklahoma.

The Tigers hope they stay ready for prime time as they await Kansas.

“We're ready to take a break, get ready for KU coming to the Hearnes Center,” Booker said. “It's going to be another Big Monday. That may be another key game for us, to determine the conference.”