December 11, 2008

Tigers having fun and turning heads

During Missouri's 18-0 run against California that blew open the Tigers' 93-66 win, Matt Lawrence left his feet to intercept an inbounds pass. The senior fired a touch pass to Leo Lyons before he came back down and Lyons went to the hoop. The layup missed, but Lyons was fouled and got to the free throw line. Immediately, Lawrence rushed to his teammate. The two embraced and both broke into laughter.

"DeMarre and Leo, when we pass to them inside and they hit me with a pass and I miss a three, the first thing they tell me is I'm an assist killer," Lawrence said. "So I was just giving him a little because I think a layup's a little easier to make than a three point shot. Just having a little fun on the court."

The Tigers have been having more than a little fun on the court. Sure, winning is a part of it, but this group of Tigers is playing with enthusiasm that has been sorely lacking at Mizzou Arena the last few years.

"I guess you could say that," junior guard J.T. Tiller said. "Can't really speak on last year, but this year we're definitely having a lot of fun and we're enjoying the way things are going."

"These guys, they like one another and they look up to the older guys. They really, really do," Mike Anderson said. "You can even see it in a guy like J.T. He passes off to DeMarre and Leo. I think that's what it's all about."

It was Lyons and DeMarre Carroll, along with Lawrence, that delivered a message to this Tiger team over the summer. Five freshmen and a junior college transfer had just hit campus and the Tigers had a chance at what Anderson has repeatedly called "a fresh start."

"Our leaders brought us all together this summer and they said we need to be more of a family," Tiller said. "We learned from our experiences how certain there were cliques. We just made it our goal this year to become more of a family and hang out with one another."

It has paid off in a 7-and-1 start, that features wins over tournament hopefuls USC and Cal, with the only loss a last-minute heartbreaker to top-ten Xavier. The Tigers are already receiving votes in both major Top 25 polls and are starting to turn some heads, not only around the country, but perhaps more importantly on their own campus.

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