Few things are guaranteed in Missouri Tigers (13-2, 2-1 SEC) basketball, but D’Moi Hodge’s two-way excellence is becoming one of them.
The graduate guard transfer from Cleveland State continued his emergence as one of the nation’s top transfers, scoring 17 points, including 14 in the first half alone to help will Mizzou past a hungry Vanderbilt Commodores (8-5, 1-1 SEC) program, 85-82.
“It was a game of runs,” Mizzou men’s basketball head coach Dennis Gates said. “I’m not happy about the end of the first half, but I am ecstatic about the end of the second to be able to come away with the win.”
Hodge’s offensive output marked a swift contrast from the Tigers’ previous game where he scored a season-low six points in a tightly-contested 74-68 defeat to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
His impact extended to the defensive side where he tallied a team-high three steals, one block and three rebounds. The success came despite Hodge playing with the flu according to Gates, drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan’s infamous ‘flu game.’
“D’Moi Hodge is sick with the flu and for him to be able to come out and do what he did is excellent,” Gates said.
His bounce-back effort was matched with a similar performances from senior forward Kobe Brown, who was held to just 11 point against the Razorbacks, and graduate guard DeAndre Gholston, who scored seven points last time out.
This time around, Brown and Gholston made their impacts felt, especially in the second half, as the duo combined for 27 of their 36 total points in the second half. They each scored a team-high 18 points on perfect shooting from the free throw line.
Brown added a team-high eight rebounds, while senior point guard Sean East II paced the Tigers with seven assists.
“Sean East is a tempo starter,” Gates said. “He’s our fire kit...I don’t want him to ever look to the sidelines. I want him to play because his instincts are better than a lot of people.”
For a majority of the first half, it looked as if Mizzou was heading in a similar direction as it did against Arkansas versus Vanderbilt, who entered the contest coming off a Southeastern Conference opening overtime victory against South Carolina.
The Tigers struggled to establish offensive consistency early in the game, missing their first six shot attempts and falling victim to the Commodores’ height advantage.
However, when in doubt, Mizzou turned to Hodge.
The Tigers’ leading scorer helped jumpstart the offense, scoring nine consecutive Mizzou points in one stretch to eliminate an early seven-point lead for the visiting Commodores. Vanderbilt did remain within striking distance even as Hodge heated up, however, behind its sheer length in the post.
Vanderbilt out-rebounded Mizzou 46-27, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and scoring 17 second-chance points. Myles Stute, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, and Liam Robbins, the Commodores’ 7-foot leading scorer, paced the way on the glass, notching seven rebounds apiece.
“Anyone can look at the numbers and say we got out-rebounded, but ultimately, you have to be able to hold that as your only negative,” Gates said.
That success on the boards made up for Vanderbilt’s lackluster start from the field, which featured the Commodores making just five of their first 17 shot attempts.
Despite the lackluster efficiency early on, however, Vanderbilt finished the game with a 48.5% mark from the field, including a 61% tally on field goals within the arc. That revamped success began before the first half ended, as the Commodores made five of their last seven field goals to knot the halftime score at 34 points apiece.
A quartet of Vanderbilt players scored in double-figures, led by a trio of players who came off the bench—Robbins (16), senior guard Jordan Wright (14) and senior guard Ezra Manjon (12). The lone starter in double-digits was junior guard Trey Thomas who scored 10 points and knocked down a pair of three-pointers.
These four helped Vanderbilt erase an 11-point second half deficit in the game’s closing minutes, as the Commodores used a 21-8 run midway through the second half to take the lead before Brown altered the game’s trajectory, like he’s done so often before.
Trailing 63-61 and in need of momentum, Brown channelled the success fans witnessed during his pair of 30-point displays against Illinois and Kentucky, scoring seven consecutive Mizzou points. He capped the outburst with another signature three-pointer to give the Tigers a three-point lead.
Vanderbilt once again fought back to a tie, as fifth-year forward Quentin Millora-Brown and Manjon each scored a pair of baskets. After Manjon’s last basket though, with slightly more than three minutes remaining, Mizzou finally grabbed the lead for good.
“There were seven lead changes, 11 ties, throughout the game,” Gates said. “That is a crucial heavyweight fight.”
The Commodores fouled Brown on the Tigers’ next possession, sending him to the free throw line, a place that Mizzou found success from often.
Brown knocked down both of his free throws, putting the Tigers ahead. Vanderbilt, entering panic mode, attempted to win the game via the three-point line, but the Commodores missed six three-point field goals within the final three minutes and resulted to fouling.
Mizzou answered with efficient shooting from the charity stripe, making 10 additional free throws following Brown’s makes to give them a 27-31 mark from the free throw line, an impressive 87.1%.
“That’s the only way you win close games, to be able to get to the free throw line and (we) obviously executed in that spot to be able to shoot the percentage that we shot,” Gates said.
Tigers’ senior forward Noah Carter knocked down a team-high six free throws en route to becoming the fourth Tiger in double-figures with 16 points.
For only their third time since joining the SEC, the Tigers began conference play with a 2-1 record and Mizzou extended its home winning streak against Vanderbilt to seven games. Looking to build upon that start, Mizzou will begin a two-game road trip, facing Texas A&M Wednesday before traveling to Gainesville, Florida, to take on the Florida Gators.