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A simple and effective defensive game plan was the key for Missouri

The program’s first ever win over Kentucky was driven by a masterful defensive performance.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The blueprint for beating Kentucky is simple, though not always easy to execute: clog the lane with bodies, close out low and strong on jump shooters, and make post entries difficult. Do these things and limit the number of fast break opportunities for the Wildcats, and you can limit them offensively.

I talked about it in the preview, and Matt and I covered it at length in the podcast, but Kentucky is missing the extraordinary talent on the roster this year. They’ve got a lot of really good, really talented athletes, but they don’t have a Malik Monk-level shot maker who can bail them out of tough situations. And as Missouri expertly executed its defensive game plan, Kentucky just couldn’t find the answers offensively when they needed them.

To the box!

Box Score Kentucky Mizzou 2018

I mean, it’s a little weird that Mizzou won two games in a row with a score of 69-60 right? But:

Knox finished with five points on six shots and two turnovers. They made him work. About the only Kentucky player to have success was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who went for 15. But even he needed 16 shots to get there. Mizzou clearly made him work as well.

Manufactured Offense

The Tigers did not have their best offensive performance, but the contributions were as timely as you could ask for.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
  • Kevin Puryear converted two tough and-1 opportunities to keep the game close early when the shots weren’t falling.
  • Down three, the Tigers ran off a 10-0 run which included two 3’s from Jontay Porter and Cullen VanLeer and a couple buckets from Jeremiah Tilmon. That run allowed Mizzou to get comfortable against the Kentucky defense to create enough offense to find themselves up 10 at halftime.
  • When Kentucky opened up the second half on a 14-5 run, opening Mizzou’s defense up a little bit, the Tigers responded with the best offensive flow they had all game. They forced a few turnovers and scored some transition points to couple with second-chance opportunities and open 3s to the tune of a 16-6 run.

Two runs, 10-0 and 16-6.

After a Tilmon dunk with 6:37 left, Missouri didn’t make a single shot from the floor. They didn’t need to. They found ways to get to the line and hit what they needed to in order to win the game.

Kentucky made a charge at the end of the game, based largely upon their defensive pressure forcing turnovers. But it wasn’t enough because of two runs that gave Missouri the cushion they needed. In the final five minutes, the Tigers missed one free throw, going 13-for-14 from the line to finish the job.

Because they’re Missouri, they still had five turnovers down the stretch because nothing is ever completely easy. But the Tigers found ways to score points and kep the game at an arm’s length.

Kentucky Postgame Reaction

Posted by Rock M Nation on Saturday, February 3, 2018
Missouri Postgame Reaction 2/3/18

Kevin Puryear: To experience what I experienced the first two years and then to have the type of success that we're's great. Check out more of Missouri's postgame reaction, after beating Kentucky for the first time in program history 69-60

Posted by Rock M Nation on Saturday, February 3, 2018

Important Bench Minutes

With 10:56 to go in the first half, Jeremiah Tilmon picked up his second foul. Just 2:41 later, Jontay Porter picked up his second foul. Reed Nikko came in the game and was asked to do what he’s always asked to do: pick up his teammates.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou outscored Kentucky 12-4 the rest of the half. No, he wasn’t flashy — two points, two boards, and a block — but he was effective and did more than just stem the tide.

I kid, of course, but he did seem to hit the deck several times. Still, his play is very important on this team, and he’s been excellent.

You also can’t overlook the minutes from Cullen VanLeer. Cullen has spent the better part of his college career paying for someone else’s decision. Yet here he is in his junior year, playing well. Cullen hit a big three early to get the 10-0 run moving, he helped play really solid defense on Kevin Knox, and while he’s prone to a bad turnover or two per game, he also cancelled one of them out with a terrific charge taken on Hamidou Diallo.

When Jontay Porter is playing well, Mizzou is usually playing well, and he posted 13 points, two 3’s, eight boards and a couple assists with a plus/minus of +11. He also had three blocks, including one that basically sealed the win.

Mizzou’s lack of depth hasn’t killed them the last two games because the Tigers have gotten everyone up and down the lineup fighting and scrapping and making important plays.

The two wins this week have helped Missouri climb back into the top 40 in KenPom. They’re likely back “in” any bracketology updates after dropping out last week. It’s funny how quickly things change. If only someone had mentioned this after the Mississippi State loss...

In case you haven’t figured it out, momentum is only as important as your last game. Missouri has no momentum right now, and they need to play like they have none when they travel to Oxford on Tuesday. Ole Miss is a very talented, guard-heavy team capable of shooting you out of the gym. The Rebels are also not great defensively, however, which could allow Mizzou to get some movement in their somewhat erratic offense.

But the feelings around the program and in the fan base are in a much better place right now. Mizzou’s goal needs to be get to 10 wins in conference play. That’s never been off the table. If you can get to 11, get to 11. If you can go further, do it. But get to 10, and you’re certainly in the NCAA tournament.