LOS ANGELES -- It nearly lost its way, but Missouri will play in its first NCAA regional final in 18 years tomorrow.
The Tigers, top-seeded in the West Regional, built a 12-point lead with eight minutes to play, blew all of it, then pulled away from fourth-seeded Syracuse for a scary, 98-88, overtime victory in the Sweet 16 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Missouri, which never has played in a Final Four, can get there tomorrow by beating either Arizona or Louisville, who played in the later game.
Missouri (28-3) opened the anticlimactic overtime with an 8-2 run, and its lead never again was fewer than four. Syracuse (23-7) might have expended too much energy during its comeback.
Adrian Autry had a brilliant second half for the Orangemen, scoring 31 points after being shut out in the first. Big Eight Player of the Year Melvin Booker and freshman forward Kelly Thames had 24 apiece for Missouri.
Syracuse looked done when Missouri took a 67-55 lead into the last eight minutes, but the Orangemen climbed to 70-69 on a 14-3 run sparked by their backcourt of Autry and Lawrence Moten.
Missouri momentarily collected itself and built the difference back up to 77-71, but Autry made a three-pointer from way out on the left side with 1:09 left, then stole the inbounds pass. He was fouled, made one free throw and the Orangemen got the rebound and a tie on two more free throws by Autry with 54.8 seconds left.
Freshman forward Kelly Thames made two free throws for a 79-77 Missouri lead, but Autry hit a short bank from the left side with 36.3 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Booker missed a short runner in the lane with five seconds left that would have won it for the Tigers.
The Tigers had a 66-55 lead on a baseline jumper by Lamont Frazier with 9:51 to go in the second half, but they went nearly seven minutes without a basket, a drought caused by their own dismal shooting and some strong pressure by the Orangemen.
Missouri outscored Syracuse 15-6 to start the second half, and the Tigers followed a freshman to that 51-42 lead. Thames had a three-pointer carom high off the iron and drop in with 15:32 left, and he came right back with a transition basket.
The first half ended in a 36-36 tie, and Missouri could have had a decent lead if it had been able to hit its free throws and more than one of its 10 three-point attempts. The Tigers, who made only two of 11 in the second half of their 76-53 victory over Navy in the first-round, at one point missed six of seven against the Orangemen.
Even with an Orange basket taken away for a goaltending violation that apparently didn't happen, Syracuse stepped out to a 23-14 lead on Missouri in the first half, but the Tigers needed a little more than three minutes to tie with a 9-0 run.
Moten, a junior who attended Archbishop Carroll High in Washington, scored half of his 14 first-half points in the final 2:50.
The Tigers attempted one more three-pointer with five seconds left in the half. Paul O'Liney, the super sub who wasn't in school when the Tigers lost by 52 to Arkansas on Dec. 2, attempted a three-pointer from the right corner, drew the third foul on Syracuse's Autry and made all three of the free throws.
* Duke 59, Marquette 49
* Missouri 98, Syracuse 88, OT
* Purdue vs. Kansas
* Louisville vs. Arizona
* Boston College vs. Indiana, 7:38 p.m. chs. 11, 9, joined in progress at 8 p.m.
* Arkansas vs. Tulsa, 8:02 p.m.
* Florida vs. Connecticut, 10 p.m. (approx.)
* Michigan vs. Maryland, 10:30 p.m. (approx.), chs. 11, 9