The Missouri Tigers came out flat against SMU on Sunday night. Shots were not falling for the Tigers, and it looked like SMU was going to run away with the game when they went on an 18-0 run to close out the first half. However, despite shooting just 7-33 from the field in the half and trailing 29-18 at halftime, Missouri didn’t budge.
Head Coach Cuonzo Martin’s message to his team at halftime was clear. “If shots aren’t falling, we just have to find ways to win the game,” he told reporters in the post game. The team took his words to heart and responded in the second half.
With 12 minutes to play, the Tigers still trailed by 13 points, and while they’d shown offensive improvement behind junior forward Kobe Brown, they weren’t cutting into the Mustang lead.
The Tigers made some headway to narrow the SMU lead to 7, but Brown, who finished with a career-high 24 points on the night, picked up his fourth foul with 6 minutes left in regulation, and it figured to be the final nail in the coffin for Missouri.
However, with Brown on the bench, the Tigers still refused to waver. “We came together as a team in the locker room at halftime and during the game, [we] just told each other to keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting,” Brown said. “We just had to come together as a team and work as one.”
In Brown’s absence, UMass transfer Ronnie DeGray III immediately stepped up. Two threes from deep and another the old-fashioned way narrowed the Mustang lead to just 4 when Brown returned off the bench.
With Brown back on the floor, the SMU defense keyed in to stop him, so it was time for another new member to step up. This time it was DaJuan Gordon, who played phenomenal defense all game guarding SMU star PG Kendric Davis, matching his offensive output in the final minutes with his stellar defense.
After the game, Cuonzo Martin pointed to Gordon’s efforts as essential to the second half offensive success that sparked the Tigers’ comeback. “When he was aggressive offensively, it opened [our offense] up for us,” Martin said.
A deep three ball and some penetrating drives from Gordon were just what the doctor ordered for the Tigers, and with 30 seconds left, Gordon was able to tie the game on the fastbreak with a three-point play through contact.
SMU’s attempt at a game winner was thwarted by DeGray drawing a charge, and the Brown, Gordon, DeGray trio officially sent the game to overtime tied at 62.
With all the momentum heading into overtime, the Tigers didn’t let off the gas. Brown and DeGray continued their strong finishes to the half with bucket after bucket, and with 27 seconds left, a putback layup from Amari Davis put the Tigers up two possessions at 73-69. From there, the only question that remained was whether the Tigers could finish off the comeback at the free throw line.
With ice in their veins, the Tigers went 5-5 as a team from the charity stripe in the closing moments of the game, and despite the best efforts of Kendric Davis, who finished with 29 for the Mustangs, the Tigers came out victorious with a 80-75 victory.
Brown was the star of the night finishing with 24 points and 7 rebounds, and DaJuan Gordon commended Brown’s efforts after the victory. “He did everything,” he said. “He scored, he rebounded, he defended.”
However, DeGray and Gordon’s efforts cannot be overstated, either. DeGray added 18 crucial points and 6 boards of his own, and Gordon added 14 and 8 to pair with his awesome defense.
Now the Tigers will gear up for a showdown with Florida State in the Championship game of the Jacksonville Classic, and DaJuan Gordon is ready for the challenge. “We just gotta come at it, play Mizzou basketball, and do what we do to get the win.”