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Missouri fights in the first, struggles down the stretch in Lexington

The Wildcats were efficient on the offensive end and dominated the glass in the second half en route to an easy win.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Following a short holiday break, Missouri was back in action Wednesday night to open SEC play. The Tigers ventured to Lexington to take on Kentucky at a packed Rupp Arena, a place where they’ve never won. On top of that, it was announced a couple of days ago that Cuonzo Martin would not be on the sidelines for this game due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Kentucky began the game with an 11-2 run that forced acting head coach Cornell Mann to call a timeout. The Wildcats were pushing the ball in transition and overall getting easy looks at the rim.

The lead stretched to as much as much as 11 in favor of UK, but then Mizzou mounted a comeback. Amari Davis and Ronnie DeGray III led the charge, and a Davis steal off of an inbounds pass gave the Tigers an 18-17 lead. After looking out of this game within the first four minutes, Mizzou had made this a contest.

The scoring was back-and-forth for a bit, but Kentucky eventually took control of the game and extended the lead back out to 11 at the under four timeout. On top of that, Jordan Wilmore joined Kobe Brown and Amari Davis with two fouls and went to the bench.

Missouri’s surge in the middle of the half appeared to wake up the Wildcat offense, and behind some solid three-point shooting (40% at the half) and poor offensive play from Missouri, Kentucky managed to take a 17-point lead into halftime. The Wildcats ended the first half shooting 48% from the floor, and also had 12 free throws, while Mizzou had just one.

On a brighter note, the Tigers actually out-rebounded a normally dominant Kentucky frontcourt in the first half. Oscar Tshiebwe still had eight rebounds of his own, but that much was expected.

Mizzou came out of halftime with energy. DaJuan Gordon and Boogie Coleman accounted for seven straight points, and the lead got down to single digits with just over thirteen minutes left.

But then, Oscar Tshiebwe and Keion Brooks began to take over. Tshiebwe imposed himself on the glass like he had all season long, while Brooks kept up his hot shooting. Tshiebwe ended up with 20 rebounds on the night, and Brooks led all scorers with 17.

After that initial run to start the half, Mizzou just could not get the lead to under ten, and the game played out as expected. As time winded down, Kentucky ballooned the lead to 27, and the final score line read 83-56.

Kentucky took over the glass in the second half while Missouri just went cold from the field. Boogie Coleman and Amari Davis ended as the only scorers in double digits, while Kentucky had four. Tshiebwe, as expected, took advantage of the lack of size for Mizzou, and the Cats also lived at the charity stripe all game long, finishing with 26 total attempts.

The Tigers will play Mississippi State in Columbia on Wednesday, Jan. 5th (7 p.m. CST) on the SEC Network.