It's one State, one Spirit in Joplin

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Eventually the ball went up and two teams played basketball.

Missouri won. And won rather easily.

But it wasn’t just the players wearing the black and gold of the Tigers that won.

Missouri, the state, won.

The One State, One Spirit Classic delivered exactly what it promised -- it united a state for a common cause and brought two hours of levity to a community still reeling from the devastation of an F5 tornado.

Fans here support their local team, a program ranked fourth nationally in the Division II preseason rankings. But they also love the state school from up the road. Having Mizzou in town was a rare treat that only heightened how special the game was and the Tigers’ commitment to hosting it.

As Tigers coach Frank Haith joked, not many BCS schools were opening the season on the road against a Division II power.

Each person in the sellout crowd represented a donation, as did the T-shirts sold at the concessions and the commemorative chairs auctioned during the game. More than money, though, Missouri brought a welcome distraction for a community that is still clearing debris and rebuilding five months later. When Haith dreamed up this game, he did it with the attention of redirecting attention back to Joplin once the news trucks left and the next big story came along.

“Things happen, you forget and go on to the next devastation, so I wanted to know how could we bring the awareness back?’’ Haith said. “That’s what we wanted this game to do.’’

Of course, there was basketball too, a sneak peek at what Haith’s Missouri Tigers will be this season.

The answer? Small.

With Laurence Bowers on the bench on crutches, recuperating from a season-ending ACL tear, the Tigers have little choice but to use a small lineup. And at least on this night -- against a Division II school -- it worked well. The combination of the smaller lineup and the full-court press style leftover from Mike Anderson’s tenure made for a quick, free-flowing offensive team.

The caveat: Will it work well in the Big 12 or will the Tigers’ interior defense be exposed by bigger and tougher teams?

That, of course, is a to be determined.