COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Up 23 points at halftime, Missouri players easily could have allowed their minds to wander to the upcoming 1-2 punch against the Big 12 leaders.
The 11th-ranked Tigers refused to blame such daydreaming for a so-so finish that ran their home record to 17-0 with a 94-74 rout of Kansas State on Wednesday night. Forward Leo Lyons noted the challenge of tackling the conference’s top two schools in consecutive games, on the road at No. 15 Kansas and at home against No. 3 Oklahoma next Wednesday. He believes they’re ready.
“They’re pretty big, but I think we’ve passed the test on a few games, so we’ve got a little bit of confidence going into these games,” Lyons said. “We know that if we do the right things we can win these games.
“So it’s not too much pressure on us.”
The Tigers (24-4, 11-2) are tied for second in the conference with Oklahoma, one game behind Kansas, and have won seven in a row in Big 12 play for the first time since 1999-2000. The 11 conference wins ties the school’s most in the conference and they’ve clinched a first-round bye in the conference tournament while ensuring no worse than a third-place finish.
Missouri likes to keep the heat on everybody else, thriving under coach Mike Anderson’s all-out, full-court pressing style. The Tigers come at their opponents in waves, 11 deep in the rotation, winning by an average of 26.1 points at home and by 21 in Big 12 play.
“We all know there’s a conference championship that’s at stake and we control our own destiny,” Anderson said. “That’s the biggest deal.
“But with that being said, our approach never changes. It’s the next game and Kansas is going to be our next game and we’re going to get focused and ready for it.”
Missouri converted 21 turnovers into 27 points against Kansas State. The Tigers also hung with the Big 12’s best rebounding team, making the Wildcats work to earn a 49-47 edge. DeMarre Carroll had 21 points and a career-best 14 rebounds, and three others had five or more rebounds.
“At their place, I thought we were kind of outside the lanes,” Anderson said. “We made a conscientious effort to really get our bodies in there and get after it on the glass.”
Depth could be the equalizer in Lawrence, Kan., and again on senior night. Matt Lawrence, who has thrived in a reserve role since losing his starting spot after the conference-opening loss at Nebraska, said at Kansas it’ll just be a matter of survival in the early going.
“We just have to go there with the mind-set to match that intensity,” Lawrence said. “We know they’re going to be hyped at the beginning, and if we match that — stick around, stick around — I like our chances.”
A 2-point thriller over Kansas earlier this month is the lone exception to a string of double-digit wipeouts at home. Missouri had to rally from a 14-point halftime deficit, and nobody gave themselves rave reviews afterward.
“We played a horrible game and pulled out the win,” Lyons said. “So we know if we put the pieces together and put two halves together we can come out with another victory.”
Kansas State (19-7, 7-6) fell to a tie for fifth in the conference after winning eight of the previous nine. The Wildcats leaned heavily on Denis Clemente, who was 12-for-19 from the field and scored 33 points. The rest of the team was a combined 13-for-48 (26.5 percent).
“I can’t score all the points, you know what I mean?” Clemente said. “Everyone played hard but not everyone was making shots.”
Coach Frank Martin is getting weary of constant NCAA tournament questions.
“If we win today, tomorrow morning they come out and say ‘OK, Kansas State is in,’” Martin said. “Then we lose again next week and they say ‘OK, K-State is out.’
“Every game at this time of the year is important.”