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Study Hall: Mizzou 79, South Carolina 68

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the 3-pointer.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

As Sam wrote earlier today, it’s January 4, and Missouri has already a) won more games than in any of the last three seasons and b) broken two different lengthy road losing streaks (overall and SEC-specific). The Tigers did it by once again bombing away from 3-point range — which, in a way, lost the Illinois and Utah games — but they did it. And that’s awesome, no matter how much I hate analyzing 3-point heavy games.

By now, you know how I feel about the 3-pointer. It’s the ultimate equalizer, especially at the college level. It also renders analysis pretty boring — did you make your 3s? Yes? You probably won! No? You probably lost!

Mizzou has shown that it doesn’t quite have a great grasp of what Plan B is this year when the 3s aren’t falling. But when they are ... well ... it’s pretty to watch.

Yesterday, 3-balls provided some prettiness to the otherwise ugly chore of watching Murderball in action.

Team Stats

Living and dying by the 3-pointer is fine, I guess, as long as you’re winning on the good-shooting days. Mizzou did that. The Tigers managed to win the ball control battle and only slightly lose the rebounding battle as well. But if they make only 10 of 24 3-pointers (a still-solid 42 percent) instead of 14, the complexion of the game is entirely different.

Whatever. They made them.

I’m really fighting an internal battle at the moment, huh? The rest of this post will be about everything but 3-pointers.

Mizzou indeed won the ball control battle!

Yesterday on the Closers with George and Jay, George set the over/under at 17 Mizzou turnovers. I optimistically chose the under. Winner, winner. Now, playing at an under-70-possession pace certainly helped in that regard, but not only did Mizzou only turn the ball over 13 times, the Tigers’ frequently awesome passing opened up plenty of good looks from 3-point ran—crap, my shock collar just buzzed me.

South Carolina needed a lot more offensive rebounds.

The Gamecocks technically won the rebounding battle in terms of both total boards (+1) and expected boards (+1.5), but with the shots they missed, they should have grabbed more offensive rebounds (13.5) than they actually did (13). Mizzou wasn’t great on the offensive glass, but they kept a great offensive rebounding team from dominating in that regard. Jontay Porter’s six defensive rebounds led the way there.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Jontay-Robertson-Barnett.

Jontay :) :) :)

I’ve already compared Jontay to one of my favorite Mizzou players (Travon Bryant) and one of my favorite players ever (Sam Perkins) this season; I’m not even trying to disguise my fondness.

Still, he grew pretty cold at the end of non-conference play; after scoring in double figures in four of his first six games, he hit that mark only once in his next seven, averaging 4.7 PPG on 46% 2-point shooting and 17% 3-point shooting. He needed the holiday break, apparently, because he responded with his best game as a Tiger, and against stiff interior competition, too.

The version of Jontay that makes 3-pointers, blocks shots, and hoards defensive rebounds is a future all-conference performer and one of the toughest, most unique matchups in college basketball.

The forgotten senior

The title of Sam’s piece this morning was “Kassius Robertson and Jontay Porter were all Missouri needed,” and all immediate coverage/reaction, including my own, was based around those two. There’s reason for that — Porter was the best overall player in the game (per the stats), and Robertson steadied a shaky Mizzou down the stretch.

But Mizzou wouldn’t be 11-3 right now without Jordan Barnett. You know how Jontay hit a funk in December? You know how Kevin Puryear did, too? Barnett did not — yesterday was his ninth straight game with at least 15 points; he’s scored at least 18 in each of the last five. He single-handedly kept Mizzou afloat in the otherwise disastrous first half of Braggin’ Rights, and he’s hitting 43% of his 3-poi[BUZZ], er, long balls this year. He doesn’t add numbers to every line in the box score like others, but he puts the ball in the basket. That’s not to be overlooked.

Mizzou needed Good Geist

The point guard of choice changes from game to game, depending on who’s hot (usually Geist) and who’s completely lost the plot (often Geist, too). But with Blake Harris limited to 11 minutes due to illness, and with Terrence Phillips contributing almost nothing of note (the two combined for 17 minutes, zero points, four assists, and two turnovers), Mizzou really, really needed the good version of Jordan Geist to show up. Or at least, the controlled version. He did: 10 points on six FG attempts, six assists, one steal, and only one turnover. That’ll do.

It’s awesome to end losing streaks, it’s awesome to have a winning record in conference play, and it’s awesome to beat defending Final Four teams, even diminished ones, on their home court. Mizzou did all that. And it wasn’t just 3-point shooting that did it.

Even if it was mostly 3-point shooting.