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Tigers rally from 16-point deficit and cruise to 82-59 victory over SC State

Players young and old sparked a comeback that Missouri so desperately needed.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri survived an early onslaught from South Carolina State to win 82-59 at Mizzou Arena on Wednesday.

Sean East II led the way with 21 points and four assists, both of which were a team-high. Nick Honor added on 14 points, Noah Carter poured in 13 and freshman guard Anthony Robinson II rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10.

The Tigers treaded water through a rocky first half to shoot 53% from the floor and hold SC State to a 33.7% mark in the second half— they shot at a scorching 60.7% clip in the opening frame. On top of that, after being out-rebounded by five in the first half, Mizzou ended the game with a +7 advantage on the boards.

Coming off a disappointing 73-72 defeat against Jackson State on Sunday, one would have expected the Tigers to come out with some fire in an attempt to right the ship and rebound from a damning loss.

Instead, Mizzou found itself trailing 29-13 at the 7:45 mark of the first half against SC State. The Bulldogs dominated the Tigers on the glass, seven first-half turnovers continued a trend of lacking ball security and no Tiger really seemed to find a rhythm on the offensive end as the visitors appeared well on their way to a marquee upset.

“We played 30 minutes of basketball. We didn’t play the first 10 minutes of the game at all,” Dennis Gates said. “We got down I believe 20-something to 6... And it’s not okay. It’s not okay at all. I’m not happy about it, nor am I excited about what we had to do to get to the point of winning the game.”

The outlook for Missouri’s 2023-24 season looked bleak in this moment.

But, all this Tiger team ever needs is a spark, and they got it in the form of back-to-back 3-pointers from Connor Vanover (his first as a Tiger) and Nick Honor. Seeing the ball finally go through the net on successive possessions, Mizzou exploded for a 20-8 run to close the first half. SC State led 37-35 at the break, but all of the momentum was in the Tigers’ favor after a rough shooting performance early on in this game.

Gates and Co. built off of the end-of-half surge, allowing the Bulldogs to score just 22 points in the second half. The defensive intensity picked up, but freshman guard Anthony Robinson II continued a stellar start to his Missouri career with a personal 7-0 run after the game was knotted at 39 with 16:34 remaining in the second half. On top of his double-digit scoring output, Robinson added on three rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals in an all-around performance.

“His intangibles whenever you’re coached by a Heisman Trophy winner, New York Knick, and a Major League Baseball player who got drafted, I guess just showing up to practice every day you can learn something,” Gates said.

Continuing along this trend of “sparks,” it’s safe to say that Robinson kickstarted the ensuing 22-0 run over roughly five minutes of action that put Mizzou well in control of this game. The Tigers clearly came out on a defensive mission in the second half, and it led to a dominant performance on that end.

“I just come in and bring that spark every day,” Robinson said. “Just coming in with energy, just focusing on the little things and everything will come. So (I’m) just being out there and just trying to be everywhere on the court.”

SC State finally found the back of the net at the 10:27 mark, but trading buckets with the Tigers would not be enough to mount a rally. Missouri managed to evade an 0-2 start to this three-game home stand thanks to its second half efforts, and, perhaps more importantly, avoided another crushing loss to its NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Tigers will next take on Loyola-MD (1-4) at Mizzou Arena on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. CST before heading to Pittsburgh next Tuesday.