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Mizzou outlasts Huskies in defensive grudge match

Points came at a premium, but the Tigers got hot late and staved off a pesky NIU squad.

Missouri was in search of a bounce-back win when they took on Northern Illinois tonight. After a blowout loss to in-state foes UMKC, the Tigers looked to right the ship against the Huskies.

Jordan Wilmore got the start tonight and scored the first 3 points of the game for the Tigers, which included an emphatic dunk to start things off.

“I think it’s just come down to him believing that he can be as good as any big guy,” Martin explained after the game. “I think he is about 75% of the way there.”

It was a sluggish, free throw-filled first couple of minutes, but the Tigers held a 7-4 lead going into the under 16. They shot six from the charity stripe in the first four minutes.

Mizzou looked sharper on both ends of the floor to start this game. Defensive intensity was certainly better, and the quality of shots on the offensive end was a night and day difference. The Tigers led 10-8 at the under 12 timeout in a fast-paced yet low-scoring game.

Wilmore continued to be a major presence on the floor. He got a block and then caught a knifing pass from Kobe Brown to give Mizzou a 12-10 lead in one sequence. Wilmore overall appeared more active and involved in this game.

Blocks seemed to be the theme of the first half. Wilmore was a menace, but Ronnie DeGray III and Kobe Brown got in on the action with some athletic swats.

The Huskies then went on a mini-run behind some tough shooting. The Tigers’ defense was sturdy, but Trendon Hankerson and the Huskie guards were hitting late-clock shots that were un-guardable. The score read 21-16 in favor of NIU entering the under four timeout.

Kobe Brown took over down the stretch of the first half. He powered through for a layup and then followed it up with an offensive put back that earned him an and-one opportunity. To cap it off, he picked up his third assist of the half.

DaJuan Gordon gave NIU a taste of their own medicine by drawing a charge to close out the half. Mizzou led 24-21 in a back-and-forth affair. Defense showed marked improvement over Monday, but the offense still looked lost at times. There was no flow to it, and the 3-point shooting was still not there to make up for the lack of a true playmaker.

The start of the second half was much of the same. Mizzou was not getting any easy looks at the basket, and it resulted in them not scoring a point in the first four minutes of the half. NIU cut the lead down to 24-23 at the timeout break.

After a slow start to the half, Mizzou began to find some easy looks down low. Pickett and Brown extended the lead to 28-25 and forced NIU to use their first timeout of the half.

Zool Keuth then began to heat up for NIU. He hit two straight threes to put the Huskies ahead, and they led 31-30 with just over ten minutes left.

Then came a great sequence from Mizzou. Kobe Brown glided to the rim for a layup, and the Tigers forced a deep contested three, then Brown found Wilmore for a dunk. Another deep three for NIU, and Boogie Coleman made them pay with a layup on the other end. The Tigers jumped out to a 38-32 lead and looked to be pulling away with momentum in their favor.

Kobe Brown continued to drop dimes out on the floor. He had a team-leading 6 assists on the night, nearly all of which seemed to go to Wilmore. For the first time this season, the team was really able to utilize Wilmore’s size in the offense.

Boogie Coleman likely hit the deciding shot of the game. He spotted up for an ice-cold three that extended the lead to nine with just under three minutes to go.

Mizzou would drain out the clock for a final score of 54-37 in favor of the Tigers.

There is certainly good and bad from this one. The defense was the good, as Northern Illinois found nothing easy around the rim and were forced to take plenty of contested outside shots. Thus, they were held to under 50 points on the night.

On the flip side, the offense was again abysmal. There just does not seem like there is much of a plan when they are out there, and the Tigers still need to find a go-to guy when they need a bucket. Right now, there is nobody an opposing team will truly fear on the offensive end.

Kobe Brown was certainly the player of the day with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists, all of which led the team. The strong finish to this game leaves the Tigers with plenty of momentum moving forward.

“In today’s game he’s one of those guys that can change the game,” Cuonzo Martin said postgame. “Probably need him to be a little more selfish. It’s tough for traditional bigs to guard him, and now he embraces the post-up.”

Missouri will take on SMU in Jacksonville on Sunday, November 21st at 7 p.m. CST as a participant in the Jacksonville Classic. The other potential opponents for the Tigers are Florida State and Loyola Marymount depending on the first round results.