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February 9, 2009

Tiller, Taylor lead the Tigers

No one covers the Tigers like PowerMizzou.com. All of our coverage of Big Monday against Kansas will be free, but to follow the Tigers year-round, sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.

There were so many heroes. The obvious one waas Zaire Taylor. For the second time in three games, Taylor made a shot in the final seconds to turn a tie game into a Missouri win. This time, it was a 17-footer after a pump fake that bounced off the rim, kissed the glass and dropped through with 1.3 seconds to play.

"That's a nice Mizzou bounce," Matt Lawrence said.

It was a bounce that gave the Tigers the final two points in a 62-60 victory for which the word improbably just isn't enough. Mizzou trailed by 14 at halftime. They were down 11 inside the ten minute mark. Kansas led 58-51 with less than three minutes to play. And then another hero stepped up.

"The play of the game was Matt Lawrence's offensive rebound," Mike Anderson said.

That rebound came off a DeMarre Carroll miss. Lawrence snaked under the basket and laid the ball back in, paying no heed to Cole Aldrich and his five blocked shots. The bucket got the Tigers within five points with 3:38 to play. From there, Taylor stole tomorrow's headlines, but even that summation skips a Tiger hero.

Tied at 58, J.T. Tiller went up for a jumper with 2:21 to play. Through the first 37:39, Tiller had taken five shots. He had missed every one. He had all of one point next to his name in the box score. The shot fell. The Tigers led for the first time since being up 11-10.

"You can't be afraid to make the plays," Tiller said. "To hit one field goal, that's the field goal I'd like to hit."

But, as usual, it wasn't Tiller's offensive game that was the key to this one. Locked up with Sherron Collins, Tiller forced the Jayhawks' leading scorer into nearly as many turnovers (six) as he had points (nine) in 36 minutes.

"I've got to say something," Carroll piped up, interrupting a reporter's post-game question. "My guy, he's got to get defensive player of the year. I'm saying that."

Tiller had four steals in the game and led a ferocious defensive effort from the Tigers which resulted in 27 Jayhawk turnovers.

"We had a season-high (12) in the first half," Bill Self said. "But then we were able to even add to it in the second half."

"Those guys, he and Zaire, were challenged at halftime," Anderson said. "But the second half, J.T. was like a Tasmanian Devil. He was everywhere."

Defensive player of the year in the Big 12? That's not nearly high enough praise if you ask his teammates.

"Oh my god," said Leo Lyons. "He's the best defensive player in the world."

Perhaps a little hyperbolic. But on this night, Tiller and his teammates sat on top of the world. The first win over Kansas since Anderson came to Missouri three years ago put the Tigers within striking distance of a Big 12 Championship. And as a jam-packed student section flooded the floor to mob the Tigers, Anderson sat back and smiled.

"This," said the coach, "This is what I envisioned."

No one covers the Tigers like PowerMizzou.com. All of our coverage of Big Monday against Kansas will be free, but to follow the Tigers year-round, sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.


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