The Missouri Tigers continued their strong start with a near wire-to-wire victory over the No. 21 Oregon Ducks in Omaha on Wednesday night.
Both teams, got off to a strong start but when Oregon took their first lead at 10-7, the Tigers pounced. Led by a ferocious transition game that debuted against Oral Roberts and a couple of deep Mark Smith 3-pointers, the Tigers were able to go on 14-2 run and take a quick 9 point lead that would force Dana Altman to take the Ducks’ first timeout inside the first 8 minutes.
Oregon seemed to come out invigorated and cut the lead to just 21-19. However, the Tigers answered immediately with a 18-3 run. They grabbed seemingly every rebound and shot the lights out. Oregon seemed overwhelmed by the Tiger defense, allowing the Tigers to showcase their explosive fastbreak. But, like earlier in the half, the Ducks would collect themselves.
After Mizzou extended their lead to as many as 17, Oregon responded again. The two-headed monster of Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte, who had 13 and 11, respectively, kept Oregon in the game with four 3s in the first half between the two of them.
When the teams headed to the locker room, the Tigers led 42-31. They built the double digit lead by shooting 44.7% from the field and out rebounding Oregon 23-16. However, where they hurt the Ducks the most was with their 11 points off turnovers.
Perhaps the only negative for the Tigers at the half was their 3-point shooting. They shot just 6-21 from deep in the first, and three of those deep balls came from Mark Smith. Outside of Smith, the Tigers were just 3-16 on three-point attempts, less than 20%.
To open the half, Mizzou missed their first 5 shots (to add to the 9 FGs they missed to end the first), and the Ducks capitalized. With a heavy dose of Omoyuri, the Ducks cut the Tigers’ lead to 42-37, and Omoyuri pushed his personal point total to 19 with 17 minutes to play.
When the Tigers were desperate for an answer, Xavier Pinson delivered. On defense, he drew a charge before proceeding to hit a three from the top of the key to end a 15 shot drought for Mizzou and stop the bleeding.
After the Tigers broke the seal on their second half scoring, the points came in bunches. A couple of spectacular plays from Pinson and big shots from Javon Pickett highlighted a big Missouri run that pushed the Tiger lead back out to 16 by the second media timeout of the half.
The Ducks did not give in, however, and they responded well to cut the lead back to single digits. For the Tigers, it was Xavier Pinson who again saved the day and put out another Oregon run. This time it came in the form of a 4-point play to put his second half scoring at 14 with 6:45 to play (after having only 3 in the first half). When asked during the postgame about what changed for him entering the second half, Pinson simply said, “I was just thinking win.”
Just as Pinson carried the Tigers, Omoruyi put the Ducks on his back. The two exchanged punches like two heavyweight fighters in a back and forth fight. For each haymaker one threw, the other threw one of his own. Cuonzo Martin said it himself postgame, “We knew that coming out of the half, they’ll punch, they’ll punch, [we needed to] stay solid.”
The Ducks’ final punch came from Chris Duarte when a 3-pointer with under a minute to play cut the Tiger lead to just 5. However, clutch free throw shooting put the game away for Mizzou and secured a quality 83-75 victory.
Despite Omoyuri having 31 and Duarte adding another 22, the Ducks didn’t seem to be able to give the Tigers anything they couldn’t handle. Pinson led the charge with 22, and Mark Smith had 15, but the big X-factor came from Javon Pickett, who scored 13 off the bench. Jeremiah Tilmon and Dru Smith also added 11 each to give the Tigers 5 double-digit scorers.
After the game, Cuonzo Martin was very complimentary of the team effort that contributed to the Tigers win, “For our guys... [they] get consumed with winning... if you get two shots, five shots, ten shots. Are you defending, rebounding, playing hard setting screens, are you doing the things for your teammates... They don’t really care who gets shots, they’re not those type of guys, and that part is fun.”
In the end, the more balanced attack prevailed, and the Tigers were able to improve to 2-0 on the season. This win gives them an early season resume builder as they now set their sights on Wichita State and Liberty next week before they welcome No. 5 Illinois for a Braggin’ Rights game that is sure to be a showdown.