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Blowout of Chicago State sends Missouri to SEC play on a high note

The Tigers needed just a couple minutes to show the Cougars had no chance. Now they head to SEC play with confidence at a high.

NCAA Basketball: Chicago State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After the nightmare that was Missouri basketball’s home loss to Charleston Southern on Dec. 3, there was an uneasy feeling that the Tigers might, in fact, be the 13th best team in the Southeastern Conference. Remember that?

But three straight wins over Temple, Southern Illinois and Illinois put the nerves to rest, and Missouri hosted Chicago State on Monday in a game that nobody expected to be close — unless the Tigers could find a way to “Mizzou” that one, too.

The Cougars were no match for Cuonzo Martin’s group, though, and Missouri did what it does best to an even higher degree against Chicago State, its final opponent of the year (and of the decade). The Tigers went into the game ranked No. 13 nationally in opponents’ field goal percentage at 37%. The Cougars shot just 24.4%. Missouri also went in 21st in the country in opponents’ 3-point field goal percentage at 27.1%. Chicago State shot just 11.8% from deep.

At this point in the year, it’s clear what kind of team the Tigers are. They’re going to swarm you on the defensive end, crash the boards and, if nothing else, will probably out-hustle and out-energy you from start to finish. By halftime, it was very clear how well those strengths matched up with the Cougars’ weaknesses.

Missouri had more points off turnovers (15) at the break than Chicago State had total points (14). It forced 14 turnovers and gave the ball away just five times. The Tigers had 21 total rebounds (14 defensive, seven offensive) while Chicago State took just 22 shots.

And the most positive outcome of all on the night: Missouri was excellent from deep, shooting 51.6% from deep after struggling from long-range prior to the current four-game win streak. That’s now three straight games the Tigers have shot at least 34.8% from 3.

Can it be sustained? That remains to be seen, but Martin was adamant all season that those shots would begin to fall at some point, and solid performances from deep in the last three games leading up to the start of SEC play is as big a positive as any other development for Missouri this season.

Torrence Watson, who struggled mightily from three all season and started off 0-for-3, finished 8-for-13 from deep. He had only made nine 3s heading into the game, but his career-high of eight makes from 3 nearly matched Chicago State’s 11 total field goals made. Also, seven of the 13 Tigers who got in the game made 3-pointers.

The Cougars were ranked 351st out of 353 team by KenPom heading into Monday, so not too much faith should be put in the numbers Missouri produced. The Tigers will face much tougher competition in conference play as well as in the Big 12/SEC Challenge against West Virginia. There won’t be any more games that amount to a tuneup like the one Missouri played Monday.

But if nothing else, the players’ confidence is at a high after blowing out Chicago State by an even bigger margin than the 33-point differential predicted by KenPom. The Tigers blew past their season-high in points (82) set in the season-opener against Incarnate Word en route to the 91-33 drubbing.

Missouri will continue to be a team full of defensive stalwarts. That much is clear.

But if the Tigers can put together offensive performances even close to the one they had against the Cougars, that No. 13 preseason ranking among SEC teams will become even more laughable.