The Missouri Tigers are still undefeated...barely.
Mizzou needed more than the projected 40 minutes to escape an early-season upset, outscoring the Wichita State Shockers 13-9 in overtime en route to an 88-84 victory.
“I’ve put them in situations, but they executed it,” Mizzou head coach Dennis Gates said. “Sean East was a coach, Tre Gomillion was a coach tonight, and they both rallied us home.”
A trio of first-year Tigers, Noah Carter, D’Moi Hodge and Sean East II, proved they could be the go-to guys for Mizzou when it mattered most. Carter paced the offense with 20 points and eight rebounds, while Hodge added 19 points and six rebounds. East totaled a season-high 17 points, including six points in overtime and a 5-6 mark from the charity stripe.
“We just battled,” Carter said. “I think it all comes down to our chemistry, everything that we do as a team. We are so close and bonded together (and) I think it really persevered for us.”
Wichita State’s offense, which entered averaging only 65.5 points per game, featured five players in double-digits. Craig Porter, Jr. and Jaykwon Walton, who finished with 10 rebounds for a double-double, led the scoring with 14 points apiece, while Gus Okafor added 11 points and eight rebounds.
Entering the game with the fourth-best scoring offense and as the national leader in assists, assist/turnover ratio and turnover margin, the Tigers slashed their way through the Wichita State front early on. Mizzou forced 20 turnovers, including 13 in the first half alone, despite the fact that the Shockers averaged just 11.5 turnovers per game going in.
“I thought, when it comes down to the defensive end, our guys are in the right spots (and) they’re covering for each other,” Gates said. “I think our philosophy defensively is to be able to put pressure on the basketball but not allow yourself to get beat off the dribble.”
The Tigers showcased that defensive pressure in an emphatic way during the final minute of the first half.
With 1:02 remaining in the half, Wichita State trailed 39-36. East then picked the ball from Porter, Jr. and drove to the basket for a layup. Moments later, Nick Honor stole a pass from Okafor and found DeAndre Gholston, who finished with eight points and five rebounds, for another fast break layup. The extra defensive effort increased the Mizzou lead to seven points before the break.
“We didn’t blink and kept firing,” East said.
Tre Gomillion led the defensive effort for the Tigers, grabbing four total steals, while Honor added three of his own in an 11-steal half for Mizzou. The Shockers only committed seven turnovers following that opening frame, but the damage was extensive.
Those miscues resulted in 29 points for the Tigers, while Wichita State scored just 18 points on eight Mizzou turnovers. Despite the uncomfortable turnover margin, however, the Shockers took control of the game with a pair of second half steaks.
Wichita State, following an opening second half basket from Hodge, scored 16 consecutive points to flip a nine-point deficit into a seven-point advantage. After a six-point response from the Tigers, the Shockers went on another run, this time a 14-3 stretch to jump back out to a nine-point lead.
“These situations allow you to figure out who you are as a team, who you are in character, and our guys did not panic,” Gates said.
Late in the second half, however, Mizzou channeled its own 12-3 spurt to give itself a one-point lead. After Wichita State’s James Rojas and Mizzou’s Hodge each traded one made free throw and one missed free throw within the final 1:06, Tigers’ guard Tre Gomillion missed a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Mizzou channeled its success at the free throw line to propel itself to victory. East, Carter and Nick Honor, who added eight points, combined for seven made free throws in the closing minutes. Wichita State, meanwhile, went 50% from the charity stripe in the overtime period, adding to an unpleasant 42.9% mark from the free throw line for the game, which included three missed free throws in the final two minutes.
What the Shockers lacked at the free throw line though, they made up for in other ways.
Wichita State had an uncharacteristically excellent shooting night, finding success from the field (54.1%) and beyond the arc (41.4%). The Shockers entered the contest averaging just a 41.9% mark on field goals and a 26% tally from three-point range, but vastly eclipsed those margins against the Tigers.
Mizzou countered with its own uncharacteristic performance, shooting just 21.2% from beyond the arc and 42.3% overall, but did just enough at the free throw line (15-21) to prevent an early-season shocker at the hands of Wichita State.
Notably absent from the Tigers’ offense was Isiaih Mosley, who Mizzou head coach Dennis Gates said was working through personal matters (not injured or behavioral). Despite his absence though, nine different Tigers tallied points, showcasing Mizzou’s depth and ability to win without one of its primary scorers.
Another point of emphasis from the Tigers’ victory was their ability to bounce back despite facing a 10-point deficit in the second half, and a seven-point disadvantage with only three minutes to go. However, as Gates and this team have shown throughout the season, they never gave up.
“At the end of the game, it says a lot about who we are as a team,” Gates said. “I’m proud of them for that. I’m proud of what we displayed, our character, our connectivity, and my hat’s off to my staff as they prepared us for this game.”
Mizzou (8-0) will return home Sunday to face off against in-state opponent Southeast Missouri State (5-3) at 3 p.m. before preparing for the long-awaited matchup against the kansas jayhawks on Dec. 10.