COLUMBIA, Mo. The loss to Kansas will not linger. After No. 7 Missouri completed its night of recovery with a 78-72 victory over NCAA Tournament-worthy Iowa State, senior guard Kim English stood near mid-court with a final request for what was left of the home crowd.
It was minutes after his last game at Mizzou Arena, just four days after he lived one of his career's most painful defeats. A one-point overtime loss Saturday to then-No. 4 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse cost the Tigers a chance at their first Big 12 Conference regular-season title, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and an opportunity to sweep their bitter rivals for the first time since 1994.
But Wednesday, life moved on for English and the rest of a Tigers squad that remains a threat to win the Big 12 Tournament for the second time in program history and advance deep in the NCAA Tournament. As he turned toward the student section near the end of his farewell address, English wanted the scattered remains of the 14,837 in attendance wearing black and gold to know the loss in Lawrence would not cause another. He wanted the fans who stood and waited for his words to know he remained confident.
"We lost at Phog Allen, but I just want you all to know it was quiet as church in there for about 34 minutes," said English, who finished with 13 points Wednesday. "And we didn't get to hear that God-awful 'Rock Chalk' song. But before I go, I just want to hear the best three letters that I've ever heard one time. M-I-Z "
"Z-O-U!" the crowd responded in unison.
The moment was a release, a sign Missouri had moved forward from a result that could have made its first two-game losing streak under Frank Haith become three. The Tigers' victory over the Cyclones was far from perfect they did not gain control until going on a 7-0 run to take a 71-64 lead with 1:19 left but the effort was efficient enough to prevent a larger slide as they enter their season's most important month.
In doing so, Missouri showed a mental fortitude that will serve it well in its regular-season finale against Texas Tech on Saturday, at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., and during an NCAA Tournament run that will include unforeseen tests. The Tigers showed they were able to shake the emotions of honoring an eight-member senior class that represents the winningest in program history all while managing any lingering thoughts of blowing a 19-point second-half lead to the Jayhawks.
Early, though, Missouri had trouble finding its focus. Iowa State sophomore forward Royce White strained the Tigers' defense by scoring 14 of his team-high 20 points in the first half. The Cyclones led by as many as eight before the break, a stretch in which Haith assessed his team's performance as "tight" during a sleepy environment at Mizzou Arena.
"We were struggling a little bit," Haith said.
Yet Missouri discovered a rhythm, and junior guard Michael Dixon was to credit for the development. He scored 15 of his game-high 21 points after halftime. As a result, Haith praised the Kansas City, Mo., native's ability to recover from the shock he experienced Saturday after collapsing to the court at Allen Fieldhouse because he failed to find senior guard Marcus Denmon with enough time to attempt a final shot in overtime.
In many ways, Dixon's recovery from the Kansas loss marked his team's own. Falling to Iowa State would have led to uncomfortable questions about the Tigers at a time when they want to be trending upward: Why are they limping into March? What happened to the confidence that made them look like a potential No. 1 seed for much of the season? And is there a way to correct their issues?
But because Missouri snapped Iowa State's three-game winning streak, such inquiries won't be asked. Sure, the Tigers carry the same flaws that have been present all year. They lack height. And a reliance on the 3-point shot against deep teams could end their bid to earn the first Final Four berth in school history, in much the same way Kansas State swept them this season.
But in the short term, the Tigers should be confident. They will likely rout the Red Raiders to close the regular season. Afterward, they can take advantage of their position as the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament at the Sprint Center and create a potential rematch with Kansas in the championship game. And from there, Missouri as a likely No. 2 seed probably won't face a threat in the NCAA Tournament until the Sweet 16.
"I don't think we feel pressure, because we prepare so well for the game," Dixon said. "We're confident, more so than feeling pressure."
And that outlook should be the takeaway from Missouri's play Wednesday. A wrenching loss to Kansas could have lived beyond Saturday. It could have started a late-season spiral. It could have created doubt at a time when Haith's team wants to peak.
However, Missouri is imperfect but strong. By beating Iowa State, the Tigers showed they have placed the loss at Allen Fieldhouse in the past. By doing so, their future looks promising.