Saturday afternoon, the Missouri Tigers grew up.
The tough mentality displayed by MU Saturday signaled the beginning of a front-court maturation that has been long over due.
Better late than never. And what a game to choose.
The Kansas State Wildcats represented a number of firsts for the Tigers this season. Big 12 opener. First match up with a ranked team.
But perhaps most frighteningly, the Big 12's leader in offensive rebounding, K-State entered Saturday's contest averaging nearly 16 per game, they are currently ranked fourth in the Big 12 with 39.6 total rebounds per game.
Possibly most impressive about K-State's rebounding position in the Big 12 is that no Wildcat averages more than seven per game.
In comparison, the top three rebounding teams in the conference (Texas, Baylor, Kansas) feature the likes of preseason Big 12 First Teamers Damion James, Cole Aldrich and the current rebounding leader of the Big 12, Baylor's Ekpe Udoh. All three average double figure rebounds.
With this in mind, Saturday's contest would have to be a team effort. It's no secret I've called out the Tigers previously for their hesitancy on the glass. It not only will lose them games, but it displayed an unfavorable image of the team, one contrary to traditional Coach Mike Anderson's style of play.
It painted a portrait, not of a ferocious tiger, but of a soft, timid house cat.
In basketball, effort, desire and toughness factor into rebounding more than any other major statistical category. Sure, height and leaping ability help, but often times in games other deciding factors win out.
Like, when on Saturday with 14 seconds left, with one brushstroke, Laurence Bowers put the finishing touches on a masterpiece.
After a missed JT Tiller foul shot reached the floor, Bowers dove into a pile of purple and black, corralling the ball. Seconds later, Bowers flung up a prayer clearly intending to earn free throws.
And it did.
Bowers sunk two free throws with seven seconds left to set up his epic two-handed reverse slam with 0.4 seconds left.
MU's approach to the glass Saturday represents a positive step forward for the Tigers, whose biggest weakness entering conference play was, and arguably still is, rebounding.
While one game will not silence all the critics, I'm happy to see the conference's best offensive rebounding team held to 12 all game.
That approach will also be key in tonight's match up in Lubbock, Texas with the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The tenacity and attitude the Tigers brought to the glass Saturday must be shown again, even more so, tonight in this road contest.
When MU has struggled this year on the road, it has been in games where they have been forced to take unwanted shots, or opponents handle a Mike Anderson staple, pressure defense, cutting down MU's possessions.
It has been in games where these two factors, among others, slowed the tempo to that of one MU is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.
Controlling the glass allows a team to control tempo. Controlling the tempo neutralizes home court advantage. Put these two factors together and you see how important rebounding will not only be tonight, but more so in March tournament games held away from Mizzou Arena.
Carrying over rebounding momentum from Saturday shouldn't be too difficult for MU tonight. The Red Raiders start no one taller than 6'9'' MU forward Keith Ramsey.
However, the 6'9'', 245 lb. Darko Cohadarevic looks to pose problems for the Tiger front court, who all could use a few more late-night trips to the Diner on 4th street. Of the four Tigers who average double digit minutes, the scales average to 227 lbs., largely skewed due to sophomore Steve Moore's 265 pound contribution.
But as Bowers demonstrated with seconds on the clock Saturday, height and weight measurables do not tell the whole story. The intangibles displayed from the Memphis native can earn you floor burns, highlight reel dunks but most importantly, a 2-0 start to conference play.
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