Sunday, April 1, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Missouri 98, Syracuse 88

(I think I was at a high school tennis tournament--I was a badass, wasn't I?--during this game, and on the way home, we couldn't find a station running the game, so we just listened to score updates on the OKC sports radio station...all I remember is listening to the lead disappear in regulation and figuring they'd get thumped in OT...and then when they didn't, I figured there was no way they'd lose to Arizona. In other words, never ever ever put any stock into any prediction I make.)

March 24, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Big Eight, Big East, big matchups, big dreams. That's what surrounds tonight's West Regional semifinals.

For Big Eight champion and top-seeded Missouri, a victory tonight would equal the school's longest stay in the NCAA Tournament. Getting there, one step short of the Final Four, requires beating Big East runner-up Syracuse, the team that eliminated Missouri five years ago today in MU's last visit to the Sweet 16.

Missouri's goal is as plain as the Final Four cap on Melvin Booker's head at yesterday's media session.

The Tigers have no time and no way to compare themselves with past Missouri teams, Booker said.

“It's somewhere I haven't been before myself,” he said. “To continue the season, we have to win. We want to play all the way up into April.”

The simple approach remains in order. “We're relying on our defense,” coach Norm Stewart said. “To win it all, you've got to win the next ballgame, and the one that's facing us is Syracuse.”

Seeing eye to eye with the Orangemen isn't all that easy. Center Otis Hill, a freshman, is their tallest starter at 6-foot-8. Guard Adrian Autry is the shortest at a very sturdy 6-4.

That fact touches off a little debate over which is the bigger team.

“I've got to cover Autry, 6-4, well over 200 pounds, a lot bigger than I am,” Booker said.

“They're very physical in the backcourt,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of the Tigers. “They're strong. Their guards are very physical, as big as any guards we've seen all year.”

The early focus should be on Missouri's offense against the 2-3 zone defense Syracuse favors.

“They're a difficult team to play,” Boeheim said. “They wouldn't go 14-0 in their conference if they couldn't play against both defenses.”

The Tigers are conscious of not zoning themselves out.
“We want to be very aggressive from the start,” Booker said. “Try to beat the zone back if they play zone, just try to attack them because we've got the depth, a lot of speed and quickness over them.”

Depth is a Missouri strength, and they'd like to enhance it with a quick pace. Three Orangemen average more than 32 minutes a game. Autry and Lawrence Moten lead the way, just as they do in scoring. Syracuse has used the same starting lineup all season, and the starters account for 84 percent of the scoring. Moten and Autry, eighth and 12th on the all-time SU scoring list, respectively, account for 47 percent of the points.

“You look at their ballclub, and maybe they don't need much help off the bench,” Stewart said.

Syracuse is the fourth seed, but both teams are mixing a businesslike approach with a desire to show doubters.

“Some games, you can't have fun,” Autry said. “Some games are strictly business. The closer you get, the more the fun really comes out of it. It starts to really sit on your head. That's when it becomes business. I think that's how we come to the game. We step on the court; it's time to work.”

While conceding some size and poundage to Autry, Booker has no qualms about measuring up.

“I think that I can go in and play with him,” he said. “I mean, I can play with anybody. It's part of the game, challenges. Each game is a challenge.

“We've got business to take care of.”
March 25, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- To see how in tune they are, just look at how quietly the Missouri Tigers deal with being in the West Regional final, one game away from the Final Four. Witness what they don't do.

“You can see how focused we are because we don't celebrate after wins,” Missouri guard Melvin Booker said. “We got to the Sweet 16, we didn't celebrate. We went to the Elite Eight, Great Eight or whatever it is, and still didn't celebrate. We'll probably celebrate if we get to the Final Four, but we're just not satisfied yet.”

An 11-point lead with less than five minutes to play almost turned into a very unsatisfactory outcome for the top-seeded Tigers (28-3). They beat Syracuse 98-88 in overtime. The Tigers play No. 2 seed Arizona at 2:40 p.m. Missouri time tomorrow at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

The Tigers' third victory is the most in an NCAA Tournament by a Missouri team, and the final eight date equals the best showing in school history, accomplished in 1976.

For a group that's never taken this leg of the tour before, Missouri is managing to keeps its seat and its seed.

“We really can't be satisfied because we have a chance of a lifetime,” Lamont Frazier said. “For a lot of us, this is our last year and who knows what will happen after this year because basketball won't be there for a lot of us.

“We want to give each other something to remember.”

It won't be hard to remember this. Syracuse guards Adrian Autry and Lawrence Moten brought the fourth-seeded Orangemen back in a game that Missouri appeared to have won. Autry banged home 31 points, all in the second half, and Moten added 29.

Autry, the only senior starter on Syracuse, won the Tigers' respect.

“We want to leave it all on the court like he did,” Booker said. “That's just being a senior. You don't want to end a career right here with a loss or anything. You want to end it with a national championship.

“He really played his butt off in the second half, and I think that's what you'll see from our seniors.”

Once again, Missouri needed freshman Kelly Thames in a big way, and he came through. Thames matched his season high with 24 points, tying Booker for the Missouri leadership.

Three other Tigers scored in double figures, and the bench provided 21 points, all from Paul O'Liney and Mark Atkins.

Syracuse had four points off its bench.

But there was no lack of freshness from the Orangemen. A desperate press topped off a rally started by Autry and Moten hitting from outside. Autry tied the game at 77, then again at 79, forcing the overtime.

“For me, the biggest thing that kept me going was this could be my last game,” Autry said. “I just found a little bit more energy.”

Booker looked to cancel that when Missouri got a fresh five minutes for overtime.

“I was kind of upset because we lost the lead,” Booker said. “We had like a nine-point lead, and we lost it. We showed our guts and our hearts out there in the overtime and really stepped it up.”

Missouri controlled the tip, and Booker hit a three-pointer from NBA range on Missouri's first shot with 4:26 left.

The Tigers, who made all six of their overtime field goal attempts, managed to pull away after Moten brought Syracuse within 82-81.

They had survived a flat start against Syracuse's 2-3 zone.

“We started the ballgame, and our press was about as effective as if I would have been in there,” Stewart said.

“The toughness came out in the overtime,” he said.

But nothing he says or does seems to dislodge the players' emotional cork. “It's not surprising, but it's pleasing to see,” Stewart said. “Sometimes I'll get excited and then urge them, and they'll just sit there and grin. You know, that's really nice.”

The Tigers won't mind postponing their celebration as long as they can keep giving themselves a reason.
March 25, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- The season ended for 15th-ranked Syracuse under strikingly similar circumstances under which the Orangemen had thrived.

Of 13 victories in the rugged Big East Conference, Syracuse trailed in 10 of them with less than six minutes to play, according to coach Jim Boeheim. For the season, the Orangemen were 8-2 in games decided by five points or less.

So when Missouri led by 12 points with less than nine minutes remaining, Boeheim's players felt no pain.

Buoyed by Adrian Autry's 31 second-half points, Syracuse pulled even and forced overtime -- where the season unraveled.

“This team all year has had tremendous heart and desire,” Boeheim said. “I thought we almost at the end of regulation had a steal at halfcourt where we trapped them and we were in good position. We just let it get away from us.

“We were in a situation where we had to trap, and we trapped full and we trapped at halfcourt. We had no other alternative at the time. We had a couple of steals and a couple of turnovers, but Missouri handled the pressure pretty well.”

Entering the game, Syracuse figured to be at a disadvantage with a limited bench potentially being exposed by Missouri's deep bench. But Missouri used eight players and Syracuse seven, not counting one player for each team that each made a spot appearance.

Fatigue never became a factor, the Syracuse players said.

“We just played hard,” said junior guard Lawrence Moten, who finished with 29 points. “I looked at it like you just have to play hard. You've got all summer to rest.”

Moten, the team's leading scorer this season, played the second half and overtime with a sore ankle. He landed on it at an angle after making a layup and colliding with Missouri's Melvin Booker just before the half ended.

As Booker brought the ball upcourt on the ensuing possession and held it for the half's last shot, Moten waited at the top of the key, bending over and rubbing his left ankle.

“It was like a slight sharp pain that happened real fast,” Moten said. “I just had to keep playing.”

While Moten was pushing aside his injury, Autry was purging the memory of his first-half performance. He attempted just two field goals and missed both. He scored all 31 points after halftime.

“The first half was terrible,” Moten said. “I got myself together for the second half and forgot about everything that happened in the first half. We were still in the game and had a chance to win. When you're in the tournament, that's all that matters.”

Said Boeheim, “This team battled back all year, and I'm very proud of the way we played today.”
March 25, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Jevon Crudup huddled in a semicircle with family and friends, arms around each other, smiles putting off a thousand watts.


The camera illuminated a small area behind the stands at the Los Angeles Sports Arena for a nanosecond, then the group disbanded only to reassemble moments later for another photo. Then another. And another.

If only Syracuse could have put as many bodies on Crudup and his low-post partner, Kelly Thames.

Though the guards commanded much of the attention last night, Missouri's inside combination tamed its counterpart and contributed significantly to MU's 98-88 NCAA West Region victory over Syracuse.

Crudup and Thames, a senior and freshman, respectively, combined for 34 points and 22 rebounds. Syracuse's John Wallace and Otis Hill, a sophomore and freshman, managed 16 points and 14 rebounds between them. Wallace's four turnovers were three more than Crudup and Thames had together.

Syracuse's two posts had been averaging a combined 31 points and 18 rebounds per game. They contributed less last night despite having an extra five-minute period.

“I just missed some easy shots,” was all Wallace would say.

In three tournament games, Missouri has offered an inside force. Crudup had 19 points and 12 rebounds in the opener against Navy, and the Tigers shut down Wisconsin 7-footer Rashard Griffith in the second-round game.

So they expected the Orangemen to play a zone defense, if not to choke off the inside then at least to preserve their strength and a shallow bench. But Syracuse switched from zone to man-to-man and back again several times.

“Basically I just had to get inside and bang,” Crudup said. “I knew they were going to play a lot of zone, but when they played man we just basically took advantage. We just had a lot of movement in our offense and were getting some good shots.”

By halftime, the score was tied and so was the inside play. MU's duo had 13 points and nine rebounds, SU's duo 12 and eight.

In the locker room, Missouri coach Norm Stewart told the players “to take it to the basket, just go up strong,” Thames said. “The first half we were struggling a bit.”

Thames and Crudup dominated the rest of the way.

The only force that slowed either was a finger that intruded on Crudup's left eye late in overtime.

“A big finger,” Crudup said.

The poke sent Crudup sprawling on the baseline, where he laid face down rubbing his eye for several moments. Finally, teammate Melvin Booker approached Crudup, saying, “Jevon, you've got to get up and go shoot the free throws.”

By the time Crudup made one of the two free shots, Missouri led 90-83 with 1:53 left in OT and was on its way to the regional final.