By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Just mention “Winner at Weiser,” and every veteran Missouri Southern basketball fan knows the shot.
Chris Tuggle’s 3-point goal from the top of the key just before the buzzer lifted the Lions to an 85-84 victory over Drury on March 5, 1987, in the championship game of the NAIA District 16 tournament at the Panthers’ Weiser Gymnasium.
Tuggle’s game-winner provided the 19th lead change in a nail-biting second half — and the second in the closing six seconds.
Two Reggie Grantham treys turned a three-point deficit into an 80-77 lead with 55 seconds to play. Drury’s Ted Young drove for a basket with 22 seconds left, but Jeff Starkweather sank two free throws to regain the three-point lead for the Lions with 11 seconds left.
Drury’s Rod Gorman made two free throws at 0:09, and after the Panthers stole the ball at halfcourt, Mike Blakeslee was fouled as he hit a baseline jumper. His free throw completed the three-point play and gave Drury an 84-82 lead with six seconds left, silencing the Missouri Southern fans who only seconds earlier had been chanting “K.C.! K.C.!,” the site of the national tournament.
After an MSSU timeout, Lions center Marvin Townsend threw the ball to Tuggle near halfcourt. Grantham and Willie Laster were set up at the 3-point arc but covered, and Tuggle drove to the top of the key and his shot hit nothing but net. He was 0-for-3 for the season from long range before that shot.
“I saw a lane and drove,” Tuggle said after the game. “I released it good. The shots weren’t falling for me tonight, but it’s a heck of a time for my first 3-pointer.”
“Chris takes that shot in practice all the time,” forward Dwight McGlothin said after the game. “When he made it, I almost fainted.”
“We called it ‘V Cross,’ ” said former Lions coach Chuck Williams. “We crossed Chris Tuggle from the right side to the left side so he could catch it at halfcourt and go with his left hand. Chris could make things happen. He was one of the most athletic players on the team, and he was a pretty good one-on-one player.”
“It was a play we worked on at the end of practice,” Starkweather said. “I remember the reaction. What an unbelievable shot.
“It looked like we were going to win the game. I was at the free throw line a few seconds before that and made free throws that I thought would ice it. They came down and scored, we had a turnover and they took the lead. It was a great place to win — on our rival’s floor.”
“This is the noisiest I’ve been all year,” forward James Foster, who prepped at Neosho, said after the game. “I’ve been waiting three years for this, and our fans have been waiting a lot longer, since 1978. This is just too sweet, especially on Drury’s floor.”
Tuggle’s game-winning shot capped a big district tournament for him. He scored 28 points — moving past 1,000 for his career — in an 85-68 first-round victory over Evangel, and he poured in 38 points — 12 in overtime — in the 100-96 victory over William Jewell. Tuggle sank 20-of-26 free throws that night, still the Lions’ single-game record for free throws made.
But the “Winner in Weiser” is one Lion fans remember.
Looking back, “Twenty-six years ago, that doesn’t seem possible,” Starkweather said.