It's never easy

L.G. Patterson/AP

If you're a fan of Missouri basketball, this has basically been a season full of fingernails on the chalkboard.

Hear it? Feel it?

There have, however, been some highlights. Let's start there.

Missouri beat UCLA.

No one has died.

That's about it.


This season started with a five-game NCAA suspension for head coach Frank Haith for his actions while he was head coach of the Miami Hurricanes.

Basically, the message from the NCAA was this: Bad, Frank, go sit in the corner for a while.

Missouri started 5-0, however, beating this five-pack of basketball powers without Haith: Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI.


Then with Haith --- and after the above-mentioned quality win over UCLA in December --- Missouri has lost to SEC dregs Georgia and Vanderbilt and has had no other wins worth mentioning.

On Saturday, the Tigers built an early 13-point lead on the Tennessee Volunteers in a battle between two teams squarely teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

This bubble is more fragile than Obamacare.

It's never easy.

But the Tigers found a way, despite blowing the 13-point lead, as Jabari Brown and Johnathan Williams both hit two free throws in the final 18 seconds as Missouri beat Tennessee 75-70 before a season-high crowd of 14,132 on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

"It was a great win for us," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "Quick turnaround (after beating Arkansas 86-85 on Thursday night) playing a team that I think is an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.

"We had to bring it."

The Tigers (18-7, 6-6 SEC) did early, building a 24-11 lead midway through the first half. But the Vols (15-10, 6-6) --- another SEC team plodding its way to the NIT --- fought back and was in it until the end.

"I thought it was a hard-fought game," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I thought we got out to a slow start ... we dug ourselves a hole and were able to bounce back.

"In the second half, we went back and forth and what it came down to was that some of our attempts from the 3-point line didn't fall."

Two of Missouri's Big Three did what they do --- Brown scored 24 points and Earnest Ross had 15, but Jordan Clarkson only had seven points. Clarkson did, however, dish out a game-high five assists.

It was the Tigers' big men who showed up Saturday, led by Williams' 10 points and five rebounds.

"I love them," Brown said. "We have confidence in them. I feel like they are getting better and better every game."

Said Haith: "We got great production from all of our post guys. All of those guys gave us something positive and it was great to see as we move forward."

Moving forward is a date with another team that seems destined for the NIT, Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena.

Vanderbilt beat Missouri 78-75 last month in Tennessee.

Saturday's win certainly helped the NCAA cause, but the Tigers --- at least to this point --- are who they are. Average.

It won't be easy.

Here's the chalkboard, you apply the fingernails.