Columbia, Missouri — Donned in special “We Back Pat” warm-ups and surrounded by a sea of purple in the crowd, there was an undeniable and special energy flowing throughout the arena tonight – and the game turned out to be nothing short of just that: special.
“Far more important than winning games is the impact she’s had on so many people, and that’s what leaving a legacy is all about,” said Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton on a woman (Summitt) she looked up to a lot growing up.
Led by Sophie Cunningham with an outstanding 36 points and Cierra Porter with her ninth double-double of the season (14 points, 13 rebounds) the Tigers put together those 40 minutes, and then some, that coach Pingeton has been searching for this season.
“I never felt like our kids wavered…We’ve talked a lot as a team, and we didn’t want those losses to be empty losses we really wanted to learn from them,” added coach Pingeton on her team’s hard battle up until the final buzzer.
Both teams came out fast in the opening minutes of the game, but after just a mere three minutes of play, things took a drastic turn for the Tigers and the Aggies.
While an unstoppable Missouri offense ignited a 15-0 run, Texas A & M was shut down offensively – going scoreless for more than seven minutes of the quarter. The scoring surge gave the Tigers plenty of time to get ahead – and they did by as many as 11 points. Despite knocking down five points in the final minute of the quarter, Texas A&M remained in single digits, 17-9.
Missouri extended their lead throughout the second quarter and didn’t let the Aggies touch it – only letting them get within four points of them. Led by Sophie Cunningham with a game high of 14 points at that stage of the game, the Tigers outscored their implacable opponent 20-4 in the paint in the first half alone and entered the second half up 30-22.
The third quarter was no different for Missouri, as they continued to play solid all over the court, despite some vigorous and fruitful runs from Texas A & M that resulted in 15 points –more than they were able to accomplish in the first and second quarters. As the game headed into the fourth period, the Tigers were ahead of their SEC foe 43-37.
Texas A&M wasn’t going down without a fight, though. The Aggies were creeping in on the Tigers, leaving no room for mistakes and taking away their once comfortable lead. With only seven minutes remaining in the game, Texas A&M finally regained the lead — something they hadn’t been able to do since the first three minutes of the game.
A triple for the Aggies by Curtyce Knox raised Texas A&M to a 50-45 lead against the Tigers, turning the tables on the once dominating Missouri team. The Tigers weren’t going to let the lead slip away, though. Sophie Cunningham answered right back with a three of her own to cut the deficit to just two points, and just like that, it was anyone’s game.
With only 3:30 to go in what quickly turned into a neck and neck battle, a steal by Porter resulted in a clutch jumper to tie the game 50 all. The Aggies were on a roll, though, and back-to-back buckets got them back on top.
Successful trips to the line for both Sophie and Lianna Doty cut the deficit to just one with only seconds remaining in what turned out to be a nail-biter finale.
With only 17.5 seconds remaining, Mizzou forced a five-second violation and regained possession, putting the ball in Sophie Cunningham’s hands once again. Cunningham’s run fell short, however, and with only eight seconds remaining, the Aggies had the ball with a chance to win the game.
After back-to-back heartbreak losses in the final seconds of their contests against Alabama and LSU, Missouri wasn’t going to lose that way again — especially in front of their fans.
A missed free throw for the Aggies (1-of-2) with only 7 seconds remaining gave Missouri everything they needed to tie the game and take A&M into overtime. Sophie Cunningham turned on the magic, making a strong, aggressive run that resulted in exactly what they needed: a bucket to tie the game 56 all.
“I give [Sophie] Cunningham a lot of credit,” said Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair, “when it gets down to the end I went to my gun, and they went to their gun, and their gun just had a little bit more powder in it.”
Lindsey Cunningham opened overtime play with a clutch triple, giving the Tigers back the lead they once lost and helping to surge confidence and energy throughout a determined Tiger squad.
“Our motto this year has been ‘we’re just gonna go out team them.’ It’s not just one person here and there. It’s all of us. It’s the bench. It’s the coaches. It’s the fans. We’re just gonna out team people and that’s been one of the big things we talk about in our huddles,” said Porter.
Both teams put on a scoring production in the five-minute overtime, but it was ultimately Missouri that walked away with the win, outscoring the Aggies 22-20 – despite a half court buzzer beater triple from Curtyce Knox that just couldn’t quite raise them over Missouri.
The Tigers took the overtime win with a final score of 78-76.
“When you just leave it all out on the court like that it makes it that much sweeter,” said Porter on Missouri’s hard fought win.