In their SEC opener, Missouri defeated No. 19 Kentucky by a score of 89-76 in front of a raucous sold-out crowd at Mizzou Arena.
Kobe Brown led the way with 30 points and six rebounds, his second 30-point performance in a row. Brown did all of that while being the primary defender of reigning Player of the Year, Oscar Tshiebwe.
In a game many people believed would be a barometer for how good this Tiger team truly is, Mizzou came out pushing the pace. The Tigers jumped out to a 12-5 lead, looking efficient and comfortable on the offensive end while playing the style of basketball Mizzou has been playing all season long.
After a rough patch in the middle of the half in which they turned it over on three straight possessions, the Tigers continued to expand upon their lead.
Led by Sean East II, who finished with 12 points in the first half, Mizzou went up 24-13 with 8:57 left in the first half. Tshiebwe made his presence known on both ends of the floor, but the rest of his team did little in support on offense.
The Tigers (12-1) maintained that lead throughout the half, as East II and Kobe Brown continued to provide highlights on offense. Brown matched East II with a dozen in the first half, hitting two three-pointers and continuing his aggressive play from his 31-point performance against Illinois.
The Tigers closed out the half, leading 42-30. Oscar Tshiebwe grabbed twelve rebounds and scored nine points in the opening half, but Mizzou shot 48.5% from the floor overall to counter his production. Kentucky also shot an ice cold 2-for-12 from behind the arc, as their guards did not appear to be comfortable on the offensive end.
Overall, the game was played at a pace favorable to Missouri, and the Tigers thrived off of the energy in the arena and the free-flowing style of play. Kentucky kept up at times, but they struggled to match Mizzou’s efficient shooting.
The ‘Cats managed to cut the Missouri lead to nine after chipping away at it during the opening minutes of the second half. Sahvir Wheeler provided help for Tshiebwe, scoring five points in a row to aid the comeback effort. Wheeler finished with 12 points and eight assists.
However, Missouri answered with a barrage of three-point shots. D’Moi Hodge hit one to start the run, and Kobe Brown took over and hit two straight from behind the arc to extend the lead to 67-50 with 10:33 left in the half.
The Tigers extended the lead to as much as 21, controlling the game and salting things away from the free throw line as time dwindled.
For the vast majority of this game, Missouri dictated what shots they were getting and who was taking them, as they recorded 18 assists. That, along with their overall spacing on offense, allowed them to shoot 10-for-25 from three-point land.
Kentucky turned the ball over 14 times as well, which enabled the Tigers to score 17 points in transition. Having a much smaller lineup worked in Missouri’s favor against the Wildcats.
The Tigers will next travel to Fayetteville to take on the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks (11-1) on Jan. 4. The game can be seen on the SEC Network at 7:30 p.m. CST.