Following a blowout win over Paul Quinn, Missouri travelled to Lynchburg, VA to take on the Liberty Flames. The Flames have made appearances in the past two NCAA Tournaments (would’ve made it in 2020 too) and have a team capable of making another run. Missouri had their work cut out for them in a hostile environment against a team that loves taking down Power 5 programs.
The Flames employ a pack-line defense, keeping everything on the perimeter and forcing teams to make tough shots. It really bothered Missouri early on, as they scored 3 points in the first eight minutes. On the flip side, Liberty started out hot from deep, hitting threes 3s in the early going.
The Tigers continued to struggle, going 0/6 from the field up until Kobe Brown broke the drought with a layup. Still, at the under 12 timeout, Liberty was in firm control of the game. Missouri could not stop turning the ball over, and the Flames were getting quality looks on the other end.
More turnovers and missed shots ensued, and the Flames continued to extend their lead. As the eight minute mark passed, Liberty led by fifteen and showed no signs of slowing down.
Liberty’s star Darius McGhee got out to a hot start with 11 points and 2 assists going into the under four timeout. He did not need to score all that much, however, as the Tigers went on a four and a half minute scoring drought leading into it.
“I’ve known him (McGhee) for a long time,” Kobe Brown explained. “As far as scouting report goes it was just stay as close as you can to him, there is not a bad shot for him.”
A couple of buckets from Kobe Brown got the Tigers into double-digits, but the lead was still massive. Missouri fouled a three-point shooter to end the half, and then Amari Davis somehow earned three free throws of his own in the final seconds, a fitting finish for a chaotic and ugly half. The halftime scoreline read 35-14 in favor of the Flames.
“As a staff we thought we missed about 8 layups at the rim,” Cuonzo Martin said postgame. “When those shots aren’t falling it puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
The first half numbers were abysmal. The Tigers went 3/21 (14.3%) from the field, had a whopping 15 turnovers and only one assist. Every fast break opportunity seemed to end in a bad pass and turnover, and the Flames looked very comfortable on offense.
“It comes down to us making some of those open threes,” Martin said. “Some of those just have to go down.”
Kobe Brown led the way with 7, but all other points came from the free throw line. The effort was there, but the execution was not. Simply put: the Tigers just could not buy a bucket in the opening period.
The offense picked up for the Tigers to start the second half, as Ronnie DeGray and Boogie Coleman broke the 3-point seal that plagued the Tigers in the opening half. The Tigers came out with more energy and offensive rhythm in the second half.
“In the second half we took the scouting report to the floor and looked a lot better,” Martin explained.
Unfortunately on the other side of the floor, Liberty big man Blake Preston took advantage of Jordan Wilmore when he was in. Both from the post and cuts from the top of the key he was able to get great looks at the basket.
The Flames continued to control the pace of the game, keeping the lead above twenty up until the under 12 timeout.
Mizzou began to make a run in the following minutes, cutting the lead to 17, but a Brody Peebles three-pointer staved off the comeback. The Flames extended the lead back out to 21, and Boogie Coleman picked up his third offensive foul of the game to boot and send us into the under eight timeout.
The Tigers managed to cut the lead again, this time to 15 with under five minutes to go, but another clutch 3-pointer, this time from Shiloh Robinson, shifted momentum back towards Liberty.
McGhee and Robinson would salt away the game with their shooting, and the Flames would celebrate another impressive win over an SEC opponent, now sitting at 5-5 against the conference since 2018.
The problems with this game for Mizzou were evident. Poor shooting has been a struggle all season, but turnovers were a major problem tonight. Seemingly every outlet pass to start a fast break resulted in a turnover, and the offense could never find any rhythm in the half court. 28.6% from the field and 19 turnovers were the biggest numbers of the night.
The biggest key as of right now is finding anybody that can become a consistent scorer along with Kobe Brown.
Missouri (4-4) will host Eastern Illinois (1-7) next Tuesday, December 7th at 7:00 CST before they begin their 3-game nonconference gauntlet against Kansas, Utah, and Illinois.