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Missouri sneaks past Stephen F. Austin 82-81

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The Tigers turned it over 21 times, but rode lights-out shooting to victory.

NCAA Basketball: Stephen F. Austin at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Harris calmly turned away from the active hands of Stephen F. Austin defender as he scanned the court. Next he drove sharply to the basket and whipped a clean no-look pass to Jeremiah Tilmon for a dunk and the game’s first points.

On the next possession, Harris blew past all defenders and finished a contested layup with ease. SFA was showing pressure, but Missouri seemed capable of handling it. Then, the Tigers went on to commit 21 turnovers.

Missouri’s biggest weakness reared its ugly head once again on Tuesday in a 82-81 win over the Lumberjacks. The Tiger ball-handlers were doubled and trapped as soon as they crossed half court and couldn’t seem to handle it.

Luckily for Mizzou, it couldn’t seem to miss either. The Tigers started the game shooting 10 for 11 from the field while going perfect from three and the free throw line.

“That’s the first time as a player I’ve really seen that,” Kassius Robertson said when asked about SFA’s blitz ball screen defense. “That surprised us a little bit. We watched it in film, but it’s a totally different thing playing against it.”

Robertson led all scorers with 23 points and Jordan Barnett added 22 of his own. Jordan Geist and Robertson committed the most turnovers with six and four respectively.

Missouri used Harris’ opening two plays to jump out to an early 7-0 lead, but SFA answered back with a 7-0 run of its own. Harris threw away a wild pass, Geist got ripped at half court, and then Geist turned it over again on an offensive foul.

“That’s what they do,” Cuonzo Martin said. “We’ve got to continue to grow in that area, but we felt like we’d give them 13 (turnovers). Just part of it, you play the percentages.”

Despite shooting seven for eight to start the game, Mizzou found itself in a 19-19 tie halfway through the opening period. In what’s become a common theme, it relied on the three-ball to create separation.

Barnett and Robertson made back to back 3-pointers before Barnett added yet another as a part of an 11-2 Missouri run to go up 30-21. The Jacks stayed in the game and trailed by only eight points at half thanks to their knack for forcing turnovers.

Harris drained a pull-up jumper early in the second half to push the Mizzou lead to 13 points and seemingly give it control of the game, but SFA just wouldn’t go away. After the teams traded 5-0 runs, the Jacks scored eight straight points to cut the lead to five.

Missouri’s scoring cooled but the turnovers didn’t stop coming, which allowed SFA to tie things up on a free throw with 4:45 left in the game. Robertson narrowly missed a layup on the next possession, but Kevin Puryear tipped it in to retake the lead.

With a big lead being blown late and the turnover woes, it was easy to think of the Missouri loss to West Virginia earlier in the season. “It felt the exact same for me,” Robertson said. “I tried to make sure I was doing everything I could to win this game.”

SFA worked it back down to one, but then Robertson drained a clutch 3-pointer. Jontay Porter pinned a huge block against the backboard on the following play, and then Robertson put Mizzou up six with a soft floater.

The Tigers and Jacks traded a pair of free throws before Aaron Augustin willed home a triple to trim the Missouri lead to three points with 47 seconds remaining. Porter split two free throws and then Kevon Harris drained a huge 3-pointer to make it 82-81 in Mizzou’s favor.

Robertson got fouled and missed both free throws, but came up with a huge steal by diving for the ball.

“I had to do somethin’,” Robertson said. “I mean sh—, I don’t know what to say. I was so shocked that I missed those free throws, so I had to forget about it to be honest and make sure we didn’t lose the game.”

Geist received the inbounds after a timeout and dribbled out the clock to secure the victory. Despite it being a game in which the junior point guard struggled to control the ball, Martin showed immense faith in him down the stretch.

“Geist is a guy I’d take in the back alley with me,” Martin said. “I don’t care what the stat sheets say, I just knew what was going to happen down the stretch. He’s gonna fight. When you have that, it’s not a question of what the performance was. You ride with a guy because you know what’s in his tank, you know what he got in his chest.

The Tigers will travel to St. Louis to play Illinois in the Bud Light Braggin’ Rights game on Saturday. The contest will be aired on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. The Fighting Illini lead the all-time series 24-12.

Highlights

  • Terrence Phillips got baptized
  • Kassius Robertson dropped an s-bomb
  • Cuonzo Martin made a first for his career