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JOPLIN, MO--It wasn't about the final score.
For the record, that score was Missouri 114, Missouri Southern 68. But truly, it wasn't about the final score.
"It was a humbling experience," Marcus Denmon said about a weekend spent in Joplin that concluded with the Tiger win in the One State, One Spirit Classic. "It touched a lot of the guys here. It was something that I felt was good for our team to get out here and see. Hopefully we can learn from the experience."
Sunday's exhibition game was a way for Missouri basketball to do the right thing.
"It was devastating to see it with your own eyes. What you hear doesn't do it any justice," Kim English. "Just to help in any way we could, it just feels good to know that our basketball team and our University helped to put a stamp on this community."
Frank Haith and former sports information director Dave Reiter hatched the plan for the Tigers to play an exhibition game in Joplin at the 3,000 seat Leggett and Platt Center in the days following the EF5 tornado that ripped through Joplin killing 162 people and leveling countless homes. To Mizzou, Sunday wasn't even about this game.
"It's about the event and making people aware that although it may have taken place in May of 2011, this is a multi-year rebuilding project," Athletic Director Mike Alden said. "The important thing is, guys, we can't have this be for the next couple of weeks. We've got to keep this in people's frontal consciousness for several years."
Mizzou sold t-shirts which raised $275,000 over the last five months. The game on Sunday will generate in excess of $100,000 according to an announcement made before tipoff. The t-shirts were worn throughout the capacity crowd. More were sold with the logos of Mizzou, Missouri Southern and Missouri State with the phrase "Lions, Tigers and Bears." Fans cheered at every basket, both for the home team and the visitors. The Tiger players joked they had seen that only one other time in college.
"The black and gold game. That was probably the only other time." English said. "I was just so happy to see the smiles on those kids' faces and the people in the community that were so happy to see us."
For the record, that first basket for the Lions came more than four-and-a-half minutes in, on an offensive rebound and tip-in. By that point, the Tigers were up by eight points.
On Saturday night, some of Mizzou's players had a chance to drive around the city, examining the devastation that is still far too evident in this mid-sized town tucked into Missouri' southwest corner. They also visited a reception with Joplin residents and Tiger fans.
"We took the guys around today," Frank Haith said. "We had a reception last night and the one thing I talked to the folks about was in life, everybody goes through some adversity. I would hope that our team, coming from here, would be able to see the spirit of the folks here in Joplin and the courage that these folks had based on what they had to go through."
Of course, this was the first chance to see Missouri in action under Haith. And while it may not have been the focus, there has been curiosity about his first team. Mizzou went primarily with seven players, using Kadeem Green for 14 minutes. The Tigers were led by Marcus Denmon and Mike Dixon Jr. with 25 and 19 points, respectively. Steve Moore helped a razor thin frontcourt with eight points and four rebounds with Matt Pressey also contributing 18 as one of six players in double figures.
"I thought we executed very well at times. I thought our defense was okay. It's got to get better," Haith said. "I think we've got a team that can shoot the basketball very well. Made 13 threes and, I mean, we're gonna shoot threes. When you play a small lineup, I think you've got to rely on that. A lot of those shots are going to come from inside out. I think that's going to be a staple of this team."
On Tuesday night, the Tigers face Truman State in Columbia at 7 p.m. At that point, the focus truly shifts to the play on the court.
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