So many outside jumpers went up, up and over Ralph Sampson's 7-foot-4 force field that Missouri's Steve Stipanovich had 25 points and his Tigers led Virginia by one point after 27 minutes today.
At that point, though, both the fatigue from playing three games in the last four days and the frustration induced by Virginia's defense combined to drive tired Ol' Mizzou into the hardwood.
The No. 12 Tigers scored just four points in the final nine minutes, while No. 5 Virginia made just enough shots and 24 of 29 free throws in the second half to defeat Missouri, 68-53, before 15,767 at the Byrne Meadowlands Arena.
Missouri (20-6) led the intersectional match, 44-43, with 13:04 remaining when Sampson committed his fourth foul and left the game for five minutes.
Virginia's 6-8 forward Craig Robinson then took the task of covering the 6-11 Stipanovich and, with help from Stipanovich-wary teammates, flat out denied him the ball. Stipanovich did not touch it. Not inside. Not outside.
Hardly at all.
Stipanovich made 11 of 22 shots and scored a game-high 27 points and later said, "This may have been my best game ever."
"I think maybe Ralph gave him (Stipanovich) too much room outside because he tried to protect the inside, too. Really, I think we defensed Stipanovich better without Ralph in the game," Robinson said.
Twenty-one points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots on his final stats, even Sampson admitted, "When I went out of the game, the guys played and played and the lead went up, too."
When Sampson returned with 7:48 left, Virginia leading, 52-49, the Cavaliers moved into a 1-3-1 zone defense that seemingly mystified Missouri even further.
The Cavaliers (21-3), so experienced and so utterly competent, followed the lead of guard Othell Wilson (18 points) and Sampson. They stayed in that zone and, with the national television lights on, simply turned out Missouri's light.
Stipanovich made just one field goal in those final 13 minutes.
Virginia Coach Terry Holland confessed, "We were very hesitant to go to the 1-3-1 because of (Missouri guard Jon) Sundvold's outside shooting. He moves around so quickly out there that he takes up all five shooting spots himself."
But the most eminent fact today, perhaps even more eminent than Stipanovich's virtuoso effort (he also had 12 rebounds and five blocks), was Wilson's marvelous defensive work against Sundvold, one of the fastest guns in the Midwest.
Sundvold is a 52 percent shooter who averages 17 points per game. Today, Wilson guarded him man to man for much of the game, holding Sundvold to eight points on a four-for-12 afternoon of misery.
Missouri Coach Norm Stewart said, "That's not indicative of Jon Sundvold. We could have done a little better getting him the ball, setting him some screens against the zone."
Missouri's pregame preparation was a nightmare. Follow this arduous route and today's final nine minutes of Missouri lethargy might make a bit more sense:
The Tigers defeated Kansas, 74-69, Thursday night. They flew to Stillwater, Okla., Friday. They lost there, 79-73, to Oklahoma State Saturday. They flew to New Jersey Saturday night.
And today brought the consequences.
"We were kind of standing around. We just stood there. We had no leg drive left at the end of the game," said Sundvold.
"Under the conditions," Stewart said, "our guys did a tremendous job."
Missouri led, 32-28, at halftime as Stipanovich scored 16 points. Sampson wasn't exactly hiding, mind you. He scored 10 in the half and blocked four shots, including one of Stipanovich's.
The pace was deliberate with both teams in man-to-man defense. Sundvold didn't score until just 1:22 remained in the half. He then scored six of Missouri's final eight points of the half.
The second half brought a change in Virginia's defense and its fortunes. "We controlled the ball offensively and they stayed on defense a long time," said Wilson.
"Seemed like we were always on their end of the court," said Stewart.
Both teams shot just 32 percent from the field in the second half. But Virginia kept making those free throws. Sampson made 11 of 12 foul shots in the second half.
In all, Virginia made 26 of 32 free throws today. Missouri made 11 of 16.
"Playing a game on a neutral court with no shot clock against a top 20 team is what we'll be seeing in the (NCAA) Tournament. That's how we treated this game," said Holland.
Someone asked Sampson about the last time he faced Stipanovich in a game.
"Four years ago in Washington, D.C.," said Sampson, citing the McDonald's (high school) Capital Classic.
In that game, Sampson had four points and 11 rebounds. Stipanovich had seven points, eight rebounds.
"I don't remember anything about the game," Sampson said. "Except I know we won."
In other games, St. John's defeated De Paul, 64-52, in New York and Duquesne beat host Penn State, 74-62.