If you’re really cynical about the Border War, you could have gone to the Power and Light District just across the street the Sprint Center on Sunday afternoon – where Missouri and Kansas played their first basketball game in five years – and shouted your opinion from the rooftops.
Kansas doesn’t need Missouri. The Tigers don’t need to play the Jayhawks. The rivalry isn’t important anymore. Both schools have moved on.
You would have had a captive audience of thousands, all crammed together in red and blue and black and gold.
Nobody would have heard you. The dance competition on the district’s stage was too loud.
Nobody would have cared. Sunday’s game, a 93-87 Kansas victory, was less of a renewal of the Border War than an inauguration of the Border Block Party.
Technically, you would have been right. The Border War isn’t a necessity. But this game isn’t about need.
Sunday was sport at its furthest evolution: entertainment for a purpose. It was fun. It was exhilarating. It was competitive. It raised more than $1.75 million for hurricane relief.
Why can’t fans have this contest, which spawned far more joy and good than hate and spite, every year?
“That’s what fans want to know, but we’re going to do what’s best for us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the game. “We’re not interested in doing what’s best for Missouri or what’s best for Missouri fans. If it’s best for us to play them, we will. It’s not a complicated deal.”
Self was a key figure in Sunday’s game happening at all. But he also seems to relish being the one to prevent it from becoming a fixture.
“I’m not going to say never, but I’m going to say there’s any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said, after his fanbase quickly scooped up its total ticket allotment, contributed half of the game’s 18,951 fans in attendance and proudly chanted “Rock Chalk” after the game. “I’m a spokesman, I guess, on this, but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way. There was a very large contingent of KU people that wasn’t happy we were doing what we were doing initially until they realized it was for a good cause. Certainly, what happens a few years from now is not what we’re talking or thinking about right now.”
There’s no reason the Border War shouldn’t exist like this forever. There are plenty of noble causes that could make good use out of a check for $1.75 million. There’s no reason to think, after 120 years, the excitement for the matchup will go away now.
The Sprint Center, a fantastic venue for college basketball, is basketball-starved almost every year. Keep the game here. Do it in October, the awkward period when Kansas — or Missouri — has already given up on its football team and begins yearning in earnest for basketball season. Do it in November, when either team could be playing a directional school instead. Make it count. Make it an exhibition.
All there really needs to be are Tigers on one side and Jayhawks on the other.
“Of course we’d love to play them, but both sides have to agree upon something like that,” Cuonzo Martin said.
Sunday was as useful to the coaches as it was the fans. Missouri got more out of playing in that environment than it will in four games against Miami (Ohio), Green Bay, North Florida and Stephen F. Austin in December.
Self pointed this out, too, which might be useful when considering if it’s a game that is best for his program in the future.
“The atmosphere is what told me the most because these guys will tell you, that’s not how we try to play,” Self said. “The ball never got to the second or third side. It wasn’t crisp. I think the atmosphere creates a little bit of tightness, which is probably good for our guys to play through.”
There’s a lot to like about this Missouri team, which ruled the first half before running out of gas in the final 20 minutes.
Jeremiah Tilmon was particularly impressive, even without a huge stat line of 10 points and four rebounds. He was a difference maker throughout, clogging up the post on defense and flushing two putback dunks in the second half. He fouled far too much, reaching the exhibition threshold of seven in just 13 minutes, but showed extreme potential.
“As long as he is aggressive and sprints the floor, I am OK with that,” Martin said. “I thought it was a plus for him all across the board.”
Blake Harris started and played 21 minutes, failing to make a huge offensive impact but avoiding any crippling mistakes. Jordan Barnett – the only returning player to start Sunday – was 7 for 10 from the floor and 5 for 7 from 3-point range to finish with 19 points. Jontay Porter had nine points and 12 rebounds. Both he and Tilmon showed some impressive court vision in the first half, and Missouri showed it can be a bear to guard on the fast break.
Michael Porter Jr.’s performance was bittersweet. He had a team-high 21 points, but shot just 6 of 20 from the field and 2 of 9 from 3. He clearly saw the bitter side of things, as his face was contorted with displeasure after the game.
“I was disappointed in my personal performance,” he said. “I thought I could’ve done a lot more for the team. I’m going to put the loss on myself a little bit.”
Porter will inevitably find his footing, and Missouri’s performance in Kansas City showed that they can be special when he does. That’s a positive takeaway from Sunday.
The other positive was a surreal and phenomenal environment for basketball, regardless of result. If Sunday was a taste of the new Border War, it was too sweet to ever turn away again.
– Daniel Jones covers University of Missouri basketball and football for the Columbia Daily Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.