Already a leading coach of the year candidate for keeping Missouri in contention in the Big 12 despite the loss of its former coach and top big man, Frank Haith added to his burgeoning reputation Monday night.
Haith made a key tactical move in the waning seconds of a 67-66 win at Texas that enabled the Tigers to escape with a victory.
When Texas called timeout with 27 seconds left to set up a final play after Michael Dixon's driving layup had given Missouri a one-point lead, Haith instructed the Tigers to switch from man-to-man to zone. Missouri then overplayed toward Texas star J'Covan Brown's side of the floor, cutting off his driving lanes and leaving the Longhorns looking panicky and utterly befuddled for the majority of the possession.
To Brown's credit, he recovered enough to throw a skip pass to freshman Myck Kabongo, who drove to the rim and tried a tough baseline runner that fell short. Kabongo claimed Matt Pressey fouled him on the potential game-winning shot, but referees did not make a call and Missouri celebrated a key road victory.
Barnes insisted after the game to the Austin American-Statesman that he called a play in the huddle to run against man-to-man and zone, though you'd never know it from the way Texas executed. Regardless, Barnes should have called his remaining timeout when Brown received the ball 30 feet from the rim on the left wing with less than 10 seconds left and four defenders between him and the rim.
Haith's coaching maneuver and Dixon's late heroics helped Missouri avert what would have been a very disappointing loss. The Tigers led by as many as 12 in the second half, yet they couldn't put Texas away and eventually surrendered the lead after a key flagrant foul called on Dixon.
Missouri's win means the Tigers can earn at least a share of the Big 12 lead if it can beat rival Kansas in Columbia on Saturday night. That's a pretty amazing feat for a team that has just seven scholarship players on its roster, lost top big man Laurence Bowers to a season-ending knee injury in September and starts 6-foot-6 guard Kim English at power forward.
In Haith's disappointing final three seasons at Miami, the Hurricanes were 8-14 in games decided by four points or less. Missouri is 3-0 in such games this season, a big reason why the Tigers are 20-2 overall and the same people who criticized Haith's hiring last spring are admitting they were wrong this winter.
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- Frank Haith