Kassius Robertson flailed and sailed by Riley LaChance midway through the first half, and a dog-eared screenplay appeared to be getting more use.
The Vanderbilt senior’s 3-pointer rippled twine, and the Commodores led 22-17 on the back of 6-for-9 shooting from behind the arc. Meanwhile, Mizzou’s seven early turnovers against a team not known for applying any hint of ball pressure only compounded angst.
You could hear the grumbling grow, too, “Why can’t Missouri clamp down on shooters?”
Except Mizzou was doing that very thing.
Despite early makes, the Tigers rarely conceded clean air space and unobstructed views of the rim to LaChance, Jeff Roberson, and Payton Willis. Instead, the Commodores’ challenge most of the evening was consistently make contested jumpers — a task they couldn’t achieve outside of the games first 10 minutes.
In fact, LaChance’s jumper was the Commodore’s first true uncontested look of the first half. Yes, Roberson knocked down a troika of triples, but usually with a hand in his face. Willis sank one, too, but not without Cullen Van Leer a step away and quickly closing down space. Saben Lee drilled on from the top of the key, but he had to crossover, step back and fall away slightly to get a launch angle over Kevin Puryear’s outstretched arm.
The only time Mizzou didn’t close out? On a Clevon Brown 3-pointer with nine minutes left in the half. Sagging off was also a rational decision considering Brown entered the night shooting just 18 percent from distance. If Brown and Joe Toye are putting up 3-pointers, it’s a pretty good indication you're hewing closely to the scouting report.
As always, I checked the shot chart produced by Synergy Sports to backstop my eyes, and it confirmed much of what I saw unfolding live. If you look at the chart for the first half, you’ll see only the Tigers allowed two unguarded catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, which are denoted by red lines.
Let’s move to the second half.
Pretty good, I’d say. Not a single unguarded catch-and-shoot to be found. And it underscores the fact that in instances, Mizzou was able to challenge Vandy’s shooters.
Now, whether Martin is pleased with the quality of those closeouts and MU’s positional defense is another matter, but Vandy’s early proficiency ebbed as time went on. After the aforementioned LaChance’s triple, the Commodores were just 7 of 21 from long distance over the final 30 minutes of game action.
What Missouri lacks in athleticism on the perimeter, it makes up for in sound positioning. When a defender helps off, they usually do a sound job splitting the distance between a driver and their man on the wing. Sometimes, Robertson or Barnett might pinch too far in, but that largely wasn’t always the case on Tuesday.
In the second half, Barnett shadowed LaChance, who gives up five inches to the Mizzou wing. That length matters, too. In previewing Tuesday’s game, I pointed out that LaChance’s efficiency on catch-and-shoot jumpers is sliced in half when he takes guarded jumpers. That meant, at times, Jordan Geist or Cullen VanLeer was switched on to Roberson, mismatches Roberson exploited by driving the ball. Still, there was enough length at the rim and help available when needed.
Aside from the shot chart, look at the play-by-play.
After LaChance drilled his wide-open 3 from the left wing with 10:08 until halftime, he didn’t score — or make another jumper — until 7:32 remained in the game. Roberson? He started attacking the rim and missed his last four 3-point attempts over the games final 28 minutes.
The natural impulse when 3-pointers are raining down is to assume defensive incompetence is at work. You can also downplay a simple reality, too: the opponent makes tough shots. Vandy has the capability to do so. Even when covered up, the Commodores remain in the middle of the pack — 35.3 percent and 0.991 PPP — nationally for catch-and-shoot jumpers, per Synergy Sports.
Again, Martin will probably make finer points in film sessions, but a cursory review hints that the Tigers, who typically allow foes to shoot just 29.6 percent on guarded catch-and-shoots, did a sound job. And we relearned a valuable lesson: Just because shots are falling in doesn’t mean the defense is shoddy.