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Missouri survives late surge to hand Alabama first conference loss

Missouri takes down conference leader, Alabama following an impressive defensive performance at Mizzou Arena

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

Missouri proved that they are the real deal in terms of being an SEC contender, as they put together a masterful game and a half of team basketball against the No. 10 (and previously unbeaten in conference) Alabama Crimson Tide. Although the Tide put together an insane late comeback, Missouri walked out the building victorious.

Today’s SEC heavyweight clash got off to an accelerated start and the Tigers demonstrated early that they were more than capable to hang with the Crimson Tide, as Missouri jumped out to a 16-10 lead going into the first media timeout. “I knew we couldn’t come out flat against a team like that,” Dru Smith explained in the post-game. “That’s a team that you don’t want to get down early to.” Dru Smith kept the hot hand from Wednesday’s matchup against Kentucky and put up nine points in the first five minutes. Smith facilitated the Tiger offense to near perfection and led all scorers in the first half with 13 points.

The Tigers were better than advertised in the first, and they set the tempo from the get-go. Though Alabama is known for is their fast pace of play, Missouri did a great job keeping them in check, but as Mitchell Smith said in Friday’s press conference, the Tigers are happy to get out and run. “We had no intentions of walking the ball up the court, we wanted to play a fast paced game,” Coach Martin said following the victory.

Missouri did an excellent job forcing the Tide to drive to the lane and take contested shots throughout the first half, though Alabama had the occasional offensive rebound. Where the Tigers had the clear advantage was underneath the rim on offense. Jeremiah Tilmon was active early down low and used his strength to score multiple buckets, despite Alabama’s defensive double-teams.

In other news, Mark Smith found himself back in the starting lineup, and for good measure— he had 12 points in the first half and a couple timely steals to keep the Tide from making a run. Mark looked like himself at the beginning of the season, much to the crowd’s enjoyment. Though his performance in the second half wasn’t quite as spectacular, it’s a good sign to see Mark being aggressive on offense. “In my opinion, he played a good game,” Martin said in the post-game. “I thought he did a great job defending today.” Smith finished with a team high five steals to go along with 12 points.

The Tigers had a surplus of points off of steals in the first half that quickly turned into a 16 point lead. Still, despite the active hands on defense, Alabama’s percentage from three kept things from getting too out of hand, as the Tide shot 33% on 4-12 shooting though the first half. Missouri’s three point success in the last two games came to a brief halt this afternoon, but luckily their defense was on point.

Defensively, Missouri was nearly flawless in the first half, and they locked down the Crimson Tide and forced a healthy 8 turnovers. The Tigers dictated the tempo for just about the entire first half, despite getting a bit sloppy down the stretch. Missouri turned the switch back on in the final minute, however to take a 44-28 lead into the break— arguably the Tigers’ best half of basketball all season.

Missouri kept things rolling into the second, and extended their lead to 19 going into the first media timeout. Xavier Pinson had a quiet first half, but found the score sheet twice to get things going for Missouri. The tempo noticeably slowed down for Missouri in the second half — they played a bit more conservative — while Alabama’s offense continued to struggle. The Tide had a frustrating time putting points on the board, missing layups and free throws throughout the game. For reference, Alabama was 11-23 on layups this afternoon, as the Tide did not shoot the ball with much consistency, despite on alright outing shooting the three ball— the Tide were a decent 9-25 beyond the arc, but it wasn’t enough in today’s matchup.

Missouri dominated most facets of the game and proved to be the superior team beneath the rim and in the paint, having multiple and-one baskets to help maintain their lead. The Tigers had an outstanding 9 blocks when things were all said and done.

Just when everyone thought the game was over, the Tigers began to look complacent as time wound down, and Alabama had a late surge to cut into Missouri’s lead. The Tide found themselves on a ridiculous run and in the blink of an eye were only down one point, despite trailing by as much as 22 in the half. “We were a little stagnant and not getting good looks in the second half,” Dru Smith noted. Alabama’s defense turned the volume all the way up, coming up big with consecutive steals in crunch time as things got serious. “I feel like we gave them a lot more then we should’s something we have to work on,” Kobe Brown said.

With 21.2 seconds to go, the Tide threatened to take the lead but missed a layup under the rim. However, a Mark Smith missed free throw on the other end gave Alabama another chance to take the lead down one— Thankfully, Mitchell Smith came up with what some are calling the block of the year to deny the Tide from going up on the scoreboard. A rebound and a foul later sent Pinson to the line where Missouri would regain a three point lead. The Tide had one last chance for a tie with 4 seconds on the clock, but ultimately came up short. Though Missouri dominated the first 35 minutes of this basketball game, they only won by a score of 68-65. After it was all said and done, Mitchell Smith walked through what happened on that final play. “I just kinda helped out...Dru came over… I saw my opportunity to jump up and block it,” Smith explained. “I’m not gonna lie to you it felt good...I feel like I did my job.”

Following the game, Coach Cuonzo Martin said, “I thought it was a great performance...I’m really happy for our guys, that’s a great win. I thought our guys settled [at the end],” Martin explained. “You can’t do that with this level of a team.” Coach noted how proud he was that his team maintained their composure in the waning minutes and said he’s going to enjoy the rest of his weekend not watching any film. “We have a program that beat three top 10 teams in the country,” Martin said. “That says a lot about our team.”