The Cowboys showed an improved offensive flow, showcased the best man-to-man defense we have seen all season, dominated the glass, and just plain out-hustled, out-played, and out-(um..)-not-fouled, on their way to beating the #15 Missouri Tigers. Sure there are a lot of factors that may have come into play here to turn the tide in the Pokes favor (Mizzou's travel issues, officiating), but you could see a marked improvement in the Cowboy's play compared to the last few games, now the question is if the team can build on this... as for the game itself.
There are a lot of gameballs to go around for this performance, but mine would go to none other than Ray Penn. He didn't play a flawless game, but he did basically negate the Missouri pressure, almost all on his own. When was the last time we played Missouri and didn't have at least 10 turnovers in the backcourt? Last night was the combination of an excellent gameplan by Coach Ford to clear the backcourt and only bring additional guys up to help if Ray Penn was truly in trouble, and just amazing execution by Ray Penn (I just realized that I usually refer to Ray Penn as Ray Penn, he has one of those names where it sounds weird to call him just Ray or Penn). His overall statline won't blow you away (5 points, 2 assists, 3 steals), but one stat that really stands out is 2 turnovers. He had the ball in his hands for probably 17 minutes of this game, against a notoriously pesky and aggressive Tiger defense, and only had 2 turnovers. That is amazing. One nitpick of Ray Penn's game, as Royal John pointed out in the gamethread, is that he needs to work on adding a stop-and-pop or teardrop shot to his game. He can get the ball to 10-15 feet and in open space so easily, if he had a go-to shot while on the run he would be dominant.
Once the Cowboys were able to get into the halfcourt set, they actually had somewhat of an effective gameplan... and that plan mostly consisted of getting to the middle of the floor, and getting to the free throw line. The Cowboys widened their offensive attack, often only leaving one or zero guys in the paint, and set a ton of screens up top to allow for drives. The main beneficiaries were Jean-Paul Olukemi who was slashing at will for much of the game and finished with 19-6 and was 12 of 14 from the line, Darrell Williams who was finding open spots underneath and was a rebounding monster (13, 6 offensive), and (gulp) Keiton Page who was driving and finishing at the rim (or getting to the line) like we have rarely seen him do. Mizzou was over-pressuring the guards and biting on every pump-fake, the Cowboys realized this and actually made a team pay for their mistakes... something the Pokes have not been able to do all season.
On the defensive side, the Cowboys were markedly improved as well. The Tigers had a nice burst at the end to get to 70 points, but for most of the game they were on track for 60, and that was mostly thanks to the help defense of the Cowboys. The Cowboys were rotating help, then getting back to their man like we haven't seen them do all year. I can only remember 2 uncontested three from the Tigers due to a switching mistake, which is well below the Pokes average of "every possession".
I will concede that for once the Cowboys did get the benefit of the officiating.. most of the 50/50 calls went our way, and we had a 43 to 16 FT advantage. But anyone that watched that game knows that the Cowboys were driving, pressing, and pushing the ball much more than the Tigers who were all too happy to take jump shots, and leave their feet on defense. The Cowboys also looked a half-step quicker than the Tigers (maybe due to the travel issues) and were beating them to spots all night. Also, there was 90% less wild swiping at the ball which is something these Cowboys have just loved to do. Almost all Missouri drives were met by Cowboys help defenders who were standing straight up and attempting to alter, rather than swat, every shot.
In all, it was a great performance by the Cowboys against a very good Missouri team. Hopefully this wasn't a one time performance and the Cowboys learned lessons in this game that help them turn a corner on this season. Keep in mind that the Cowboys are now 3-5 and have two winnable games up next (OU, @NU), and that with the other power conferences being just as down as the Big 12, there is a good chance of an 8-8 team or two getting into the tournament. So keep believing Cowboys fans, weirder things have happened (the 08-09 team was 3-6 at one time).
Yes, I really did embed that shit.