Stewart, 53, a tall, laconic Show Me son (from Shelbyville), is a character—he delivered his luncheon remarks wearing a woman's wig of black curls—who is known mostly for the success the Tigers achieved with the Steve Stipanovich-Jon Sundvold teams early in the decade. Missouri's 91-81 victory over Carolina in the NIT semifinals in New York over Thanksgiving was Stewart's 500th as a head coach, but like Smith, his contemporary, he labors under the tag of being a "restrictive" fellow, unwilling to let his athletes roam free.
But change is in the air everywhere. "I don't coach anymore," Stewart said last week, only partly in jest. "I've always preferred a lot of action and movement anyway. Now we just let the players play and hope maybe they'll learn something about the game that way."
Moreover, these current Tigers—bereft of last season's scoring leader. Derrick Chievous—are a conglomerate of athletes whose method of operation now resembles that of another Missouri institution, the speed-burning St. Louis Cardinals. Indeed, this Mizzou squad, says NBA scout Marty Blake, has "more talent for our purposes than any other team in the country."
Four of the Tigers' top nine players are from Detroit, where Stewart built a base after signing the lightly regarded Lynn Hardy six years ago. Another of the mainstays, senior guard Byron Irvin, a transfer from Arkansas, is at Missouri because in 1985 Eddie Sutton, then the Razorback coach, refused to take Irvin to Kentucky with him when he switched jobs. And freshman guard Anthony Peeler, from Kansas City, is at Mizzou only because he somehow knew when Larry Brown was recruiting him for Kansas that by the time Peeler would have joined the Jayhawks, Brown would be gone. Obviously, Peeler is a history buff.
Peeler is also the lefthanded gun who on Friday night bravely whirled and fired in a three-pointer to tie the Missouri-Temple game at 67-67 with a minute left in regulation time. And Irvin is the streaky dervish who, with his team trailing Temple 40-25—"Frankly, I was embarrassed," he said—scored Missouri's first 13 points of the second half. He also had 10 in the two overtimes and a career-high 33 altogether in the Tigers' 91-74 victory over Mark Macon (30 points) and the young Owls.
If the sloppily played first-night doubleheader proved nothing else, it served to show once again just how influential the steadying hand of an experienced point guard can be. Under the control of Howard Evans, now departed, Temple had averaged about nine turnovers a game during the past three years; against Missouri last week, the Owls flapped to 18. With Steve Kerr at the controls, Arizona won 35 games last season; without him the Wildcats had nobody to turn to when Sean Elliott fouled out against North Carolina with 4:45 left and the score tied 61-61. Arizona then faltered down the stretch.
Smith had focused his troops to take advantage of Elliott's penchant for no-look driving, thus providing opportunities for the Heels to draw the charge, and Elliott's fourth foul, with 13:28 left in the game, was an obvious charge. But the play that resulted in his fifth and disqualifying personal—on defense, away from the ball—didn't warrant a whistle. "You wouldn't call that in a pickup game," said Madden, the alleged victim.
As the closing seconds ticked away, Lebo joyously waved his arms in the air, a gesture at once expressing how much the victory meant and belying the Tar Heels' reputation as a crew of lobotomized automatons.
The next night North Carolina was equally emotional, breaking down a Missouri squad that had brutalized the Heels on the boards the week before in New York. But in that contest Tiger center Gary Leonard administered a vicious swinging elbow to Madden's forehead in the first two minutes of the game and knocked him out of action. That blow also knocked Smith's rhythmic substitution pattern out of whack. On Saturday night, though, Tar Heel runs of seven and nine consecutive points, plus a pair of unexpected three-pointers from Fox, helped North Carolina double Missouri's score (42-21) and effectively end matters with more than four minutes remaining in the first half.
This time the rugged, 6'5" Madden avoided elbows and simply jumped over everybody for 19 points. "I'm more comfortable posting up inside with my back to the basket, the way I did in high school," he said.