For much of Friday night, the St. Louis University faithful in attendance were actually louder than the Tiger supporters at Mizzou Arena. A crowd of blue shirts behind the basket on the side of the Billikens’ bench was rowdy and taunted Mizzou players during several free throw attempts.
Sophie Cunningham wasn’t having it. She shouted and raised her arms up and down in the third quarter, calling for the crowd at Mizzou Arena to get into the game.
The Tigers trailed by four, but Lauren Aldridge had just come up with a block that knocked Jackie Kemph to the ground. The fans responded, and were notably more audible for the rest of the night.
“I think when we can get our fans involved it’s just such a hard environment to play in,” Cunningham said. “I kind of got in trouble for hyping up a little too much, but I’ll do that anytime to get our fans involved.”
No. 17 Missouri needed every bit of the energy in a 70-58 comeback win over SLU. The Tigers have now won eight straight games and are 24-1 all time against the Billikens.
Cierra Porter led all scorers with 23 points, scoring 16 in the fourth quarter alone. She added 18 rebounds and two blocks in a dominating performance. Cunningham had her first double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“It was just winning time,” Porter said when asked about the team’s fourth quarter performance. “We all knew how much we wanted to win this game and we just had to turn it into another gear even though the first three quarters didn’t go the way we wanted them to.”
Missouri started cold, shooting just two for eight from the field and committing two turnovers in the first six minutes of the game. SLU was scrappy, aggressive and active on defense.
The Tigers found their groove following a timeout, closing the quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 14-8 lead. Cunningham worked her way inside the post, hitting two layups and knocking down a free throw.
Cunningham and Aldridge combined for 13 of Mizzou’s 14 first quarter points. Aldridge drained two 3-pointers, with one coming during Missouri’s run.
SLU responded with a 12-2 run of its own in the second quarter, taking advantage of a nearly eight minute drought in which the Tigers didn’t score a field goal. It was almost like there was a lid on the basket, but Kayla Michael ended the suffering with a layup.
Amber Smith added a layup of her own to tie the game at 22 going into halftime. The stats weren’t pretty at the break, with both teams combining to shoot 18 for 51 from the field and commit 11 turnovers.
Missouri seemed committed to keep launching threes, attempting 22 and hitting just two of them. The Billikens’ size and length, with a roster boasting five players 6’2” or taller, clearly bothered the Tigers and prevented them from penetrating past the perimeter.
“I think we just really had a hard time getting anything going inside,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “We weren’t aggressive enough. They do a great job playing gap defense and really look to double things inside. Even dribble penetration, you were going to go into traffic.”
When Mizzou’s players put their heads down and made a concerted effort to get into the paint, however, they found success. They shot 62 percent inside the three-point line and made 12 of 17 layup attempts.
“I thought we were more relentless with it in the second half and really intentional about it,” Pingeton said. “We went to our high-low motion offense and really got some good looks inside.”
With the game tied at 25 in the third quarter, SLU made its push. A huge 3-pointer by Aaliyah Convington sparked an 8-2 run to put the Billikens up 33-27. Missouri’s offense was really in a funk at this point, and the efforts of Cunningham were the only thing keeping the Tigers in the game.
Mizzou still couldn’t find its shot, but that didn’t affect the effort they gave on defense and the glass. SLU shot only 38 percent from the field and 13 percent from three, and the Tigers won the rebounding battle 42 to 29.
After the Billikens lead swelled to as large as eight points, Missouri ended the quarter on an 8-2 run to cut the deficit down to two. The momentum was on Mizzou’s side, and it tied the game on a Porter layup after a SLU airball to start the fourth quarter.
“I personally feel like we just got even more aggressive,” Pingeton said when asked about the fourth quarter turnaround. “We imposed our will. There was a little bit more sense of urgency.”
Both teams traded the lead, and then Missouri was carried by the Porter takeover. Next up for the Tigers is Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at 2 p.m. on Sunday.