The seven-game home stand to begin the season is already over...
...and the Missouri Tigers stand at 7-0.
“I’m thankful that we’re 7-0,” Mizzou head coach Dennis Gates said. “Our guys have persevered and executed what I’ve asked them off the court, in the classroom, community service. And what you see is their hard work, their dedication, their connectivity, and their belief in the name on the front of the chest.”
Houston Christian, the latest victim of Mizzou’s best start since the 2013-14 season, journeyed to Columbia to face the Tigers for the first time in program history, and the Huskies may not want to return for a while.
Mizzou bolted out to a 23-3 lead en route to a 105-69 victory, utilizing its high-tempo offense and suffocating defense to overwhelm an HCU program who entered with the nation’s 19th-best three-point field goal percentage.
Guard DeAndre Gholston led the charge for the Tigers, scoring a season-high 22 points and becoming the fifth different player to lead Mizzou in scoring during a game this season—Kobe Brown, D’Moi Hodge, Noah Carter and Isiaih Mosley are the others.
“(Gholston) hadn’t played as well as he wanted to on the offensive end, but defensively, he’s been as consistent as anyone,” Gates said. “To have a fifth guy out of seven games lead us in scoring, it says a lot.”
The Huskies countered with eight different players who scored baskets, including a team-high 17 points from Maks Klanjscek. HCU struggled to string together momentum, however, committing 23 turnovers and knocking down just five of 25 three-point field goal attempts.
Utilizing full-court pressure throughout a majority of the game, the Tigers grabbed 16 steals and scored 33 points via turnovers. Hodge led the charge defensively, grabbing a team-high five steals and adding 13 points. A quartet of Tigers — Nick Honor, Sean East II, Ronnie DeGray III and Gholston — tallied two steals apiece.
“I think (my offensive success) starts on the defensive end,” Gholston said. “I picked my intensity up, just kept running, my teammates found me and it just worked out for me today.”
Mizzou’s defensive stand began early, as the Tigers held the Huskies without a point for the first 4:54 and did not give up their first field goal until HCU connected on a layup to cut its deficit to 25-5. In fact, the Huskies did not make their first seven shot attempts, including five three-pointers, while Mizzou began 90% from the field.
“To be able to get that lead, you have to be able to get stops,” Gates said. “I thought our guys did that throughout the game.”
That early flurry included five three-pointers from Brown, Gholston, Carter and Hodge (2). By the final horn, the Tigers had doubled that number, making 11 of 25 three-pointers with Hodge (3-6) and Gholston (3-5) leading the charge.
“Today showed, just being myself, I can still make plays, but be aggressive first and try to score first,” Gholston said. “Today, it worked out.”
After its slow start, HCU discovered a touch of newfound rhythm, connecting on its next seven shot attempts to fight back within 14 points at 34-20. The spurt was short-lived, however, as Mizzou doubled up the Huskies 20-10 to close out the first half.
Gholston led that run, scoring the final 14 points for the Tigers to close out a dominant start for the Milwaukee transfer. His 19 first half points led all scorers, and Carter added the second most with 10 of his 14 points coming in the first frame.
“I thought (Gholston) was really decisive today,” Gates said. “I saw his instincts today. I saw him attack today... and that’s what we need him to continue to do.”
Much like the first half, Mizzou dominated the pace throughout the latter portion of the game, outscoring HCU 51-39 over the final 20 minutes. The recipe for success shifted, however, as the Tigers focused heavily on post-play en route to scoring 44 of their 62 total points in the paint in the second half.
Brown showcased why he was named a Preseason All-SEC First Team talent, surging for 14 second half points on 70% shooting. A majority of his baskets occurred on fast break opportunities following turnovers from the Huskies, who committed 11 in the second half. Mizzou’s high-intensity defense never seemed to slow, a growing theme for the Dennis Gates-led Tigers.
Another facet to Mizzou’s evolving offensive scheme continued against HCU, as the Tigers totaled 28 assists, which included seven players with at least three. After entering the game with a nation-best 22.3 assists per game, Mizzou continued its unselfish play behind a pair of five-assist games from Carter and Tre Gomillion.
“(Carter is) the seventh guy with five-plus assists in a game, and I think those things are important when you talk about the level of unselfishness,” Gates said.
Aside from the many positives, the Tigers did lose the rebounding battle 32-28 and committed 17 total fouls.
“We had five goals going into the game,” HCU head coach Ron Cottrell, who has coached the program for 32 seasons, said. “One of them was plus-four on the rebound margin, and we were plus four.”
Both of those areas have been points of emphasis throughout this early going, but have yet to make much of a difference. With a much tougher schedule looming, those two categories will be a topic of conversation going forward.
Mizzou will face its first road test of the season Tuesday when the Tigers travel about four and a half hours southwest to take on the Wichita State Shockers. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., as Mizzou searches for revenge (albeit with almost an entirely new roster) following last year’s 61-55 loss to Wichita State in Columbia.
“We’re enjoying this moment,” Gates said. “These guys have played on the road before. This isn’t their first rodeo ... There’s more sacrifice needing to take place on the road than at home. There’s more preparation that needs to be taking place individually.”