In Round 1 of Ole Miss and Missouri, the Tigers torched the Rebels on January 18th, winning by 25 thanks to a 62.7% shooting mark from the field and +14 edge on the boards.
Ole Miss star Jarkel Joiner did not play in the first matchup, but made his return tonight in Round 2. While freshman phenom Daeshun Ruffin led the Rebels with 12 in their first meeting with Mizzou, he was out tonight due to a season-ending knee injury.
“It’s always tough to beat a team twice,” Cuonzo Martin said. “The thing about Ole Miss is they play a physical brand.”
The Tigers themselves were playing with eight available available players with Yaya Keita, Anton Brookshire and Jordan Wilmore all out due to injury.
Both teams sat back-to-back in the SEC standings at the beginning of the night, with Mizzou clinging to a half-game advantage. Case in point: this game meant a lot for both teams attempting to rise up the crowded SEC standings.
The Tigers got out to a solid start in this one, as they really attacked the interior of the Rebel defense despite the shot-blocking ability of Nysier Brooks. This allowed Missouri to shoot 62.5% (5/8) from 3-point land in the first half, largely thanks to kick-outs.
“We have to continue to get better at driving the ball, that’s why Ronnie played so well because he was the center release guy,” Martin said. “When they switched, we made plays.”
The lead never grew past five in the first fifteen minutes, but Mizzou still led for much of the first half.
The Rebels mainly managed to keep pace thanks to fast break buckets, as both teams played to their identity. The Tigers made their living in the half-court, while the Rebels aimed to get out and run.
At the end of the half, DaJuan Gordon got hot from 3-point land, as he hit his second and third 3-pointers in quick succession and silenced the Ole Miss bench each time. Literally. He made hand gestures, effectively shushing them.
“I was just playing basketball,” Gordon said. “When I shot, they were talking so I told them to be quiet.”
That inspired a 12-2 run to finish the half for the Tigers, as a defense that forced eight first half turnovers gave the offense easy buckets at the other end. With Mizzou Arena into it, the Tigers took all of the momentum with them into halftime with a 43-32 lead.
It was a generally balanced scoring effort from the Tigers, with Gordon, Kobe Brown and Javon Pickett all scoring 9, followed by Amari Davis with 8. Ole Miss was led by sophomore guard Matthew Murrell, who eclipsed his points per game average (10.8) in the first half with 12.
It was all-around a quality half of basketball from Mizzou, who looked very similar to how they did in their first matchup with the Rebels. The defense was sparking offensive success, and this was as good of a shooting effort as Missouri had put forth this season, even with Boogie Coleman going 0/4 from the field.
The momentum carried over into the early minutes of the second half, and Ole Miss had to call a timeout before the under 16 as the Tigers’ lead stretched to 19. The Rebels started out the half with three turnovers and were 1/7 from the field.
“The ball was moving,” Martin said. “We were sharing the ball and we were active.”
Something else definitely noteworthy as this game went on was how the floor seemed so open for Mizzou. The successful exterior shooting had allowed for plenty of driving lanes, and the likes of Ronnie DeGray III (10 second half points), Kobe Brown, and others took advantage.
The Rebels made a push as the game went under the ten minute mark, cutting the lead to 11. Nysier Brooks really began to flex his size down low, drawing fouls and getting consistent deep post position.
The run continued, as Ole Miss slimmed the lead down further to six around the four minute mark. With the tide shifting, DeGray hit one of the more timely 3s of the season to stave off the run, and a Kobe layup stretched the lead back to 9.
“His (DeGray) presence is always there, he does the little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet,” Amari Davis said, regarding DeGray’s solid outing.
Ole Miss would got the lead as low as five, but Missouri salted the game away from the defensive side of the floor and the free throw line.
“We took our foot off the gas,’ Javon Pickett said. “But we were able to keep the lead.”
If only Mizzou could play Ole Miss every game. The Tigers shot a cool 53.% from the field this time around, including 50% from 3-point land. The scoring was balanced across the board, with five players in double figures to make up for Coleman’s uncharacteristic goose egg in the points department. 15 assists on 28 made buckets is nothing to scoff at either, rounding out an impressive offensive showing from the Tigers.
This team continues to look better as each week goes by, and they are now learning how to win close games as well.
The Tigers will take on rivals Arkansas on Tuesday at 8:00 CST on the SEC Network. Arkansas already manhandled the Tigers to a tune of 87-43 in their first meeting in Fayetteville, and the Razorbacks have won nine of their past ten and turned around their season. They did, however, lose to Alabama this evening in a truly weird game, effectively ending their 9 game win streak, so this should be a marquee match up.