The Missouri Tigers (5-1) opened play at the Daytona Beach Classic with a nail-biting 66-65 victory against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (0-3) of the OVC.
The Tigers set the tone for this game early with an Ashton Judd jumper and a Hayley Frank three on consecutive possessions to make the game 5-0, forcing the Golden Eagles to burn a timeout early.
Missouri utilized quick plays in transition and great ball movement to create open looks, but found a cold spell of shooting beyond the arc to keep the game close in the early going of the first quarter.
Tennessee Tech, a 20-game winner a season ago and picked as the pre-season favorite of the Ohio Valley Conference, was not the first OVC team Head Coach Robin Pingeton (or Pingerton, as the FloHoops PBP announcer called her)’s group had faced this season. The Tigers had already gotten a taste of OVC basketball when they handled the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles in their previous tilt, coming away with a 96-62 thrashing.
After having two outstanding games, Frank got into early foul trouble in this one , picking up two fouls with just 1:28 remaining in the first quarter, which provided momentum for the Golden Eagles in her absence. Angie Ngalakulondi also received her second foul shortly after in the paint, forcing her to be subbed out, resulting in two of the Tigers’ soundest rebounders needing to grab some chair.
Missouri was held scoreless for the final 2:45 and a Jennifer Sullivan half-court shot as time expired in the first quarter put the Tigers in dangerous territory early on, clinging to a 16-15 lead heading into the second quarter.
The turnover issue has been an ever-present achilles heel for Pingeton’s teams the last two seasons, and those troubles continued as the Tigers sputtered to seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes of the game.
After falling behind 17-16, the Tigers gathered a 7-0 run that brought some needed control of the game to Missouri, and seemingly helped calmed the teams’ nerves and curtailed a fired up Golden Eagles team.
However, Tech never wavered as they reclaimed the lead with some crucial buckets, capitalizing on missed assignments from the Tiger defense.
Mama Dembele proved to be the only person able to provide Pingeton consistent offense in the first half, as she sped to double-digit points on 4-6 shooting with three assists to boot. Dembele finished the game with 16 points on 5-10 shooting and a 5/3 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Foul trouble woes continued to pile up as Ashton Judd picked up her third foul with just over a minute left in the first half, forcing Pingeton to go much deeper into her bench as she had likely anticipated heading into this matchup.
The story of the first half was offensive boards, as the Golden Eagles out-rebounded the Tigers on the offensive glass 9-1 in the first half. Make no mistake, though, turnovers still proved to be an important addition to this game’s story, as the Tigers squandered 10 of them in the first half, with TN Tech tallying 15 points as a result. The 15 points were good for nearly half of the Eagles’ 31 first half points. The 31 points is the most points scored for Tennessee Tech in a first half all season.
At the break, Missouri found themselves down 31-30 despite shooting 18% better from the field than the Golden Eagles, mainly due to Tennessee Tech being able to rack up a substantially higher amount of possessions in the half. To add insult to injury, the Tigers went the final three minutes of the half without a made bucket.
The early going of the second half was dominated by freshman Grace Slaughter, as she commandeered a 7-0 run by herself to give the Tigers a 37-33 lead with Tennessee Tech showing no signs of rolling over.
Grace through the lane— Mizzou Basketball (@MizzouWBB) November 25, 2023
Seven points in the quarter pic.twitter.com/u5ZwY7upQs
The Golden Eagles continued to burn the Tigers in transition and find their shooters on open looks, and they rode that strategy to a 48-47 lead over Missouri heading into the final frame, producing some nerves from the Missouri faithful.
The Golden Eagles started to pull away to begin the fourth quarter as they charged to an 8-0 run and built a corresponding 55-47 lead with 8:14 remaining in the game.
In response, Frank helped spark a quickfire 6-0 run but disaster struck with 6:16 remaining as Judd fouled out with just six points, meaning the Tigers were going to have tough it out without their leading scorer.
After going up eight, the Golden Eagles were held scoreless for the next 2:37 until they drained a shot from beyond the arc, but Missouri responded with a three-pointer of their own. It appeared as if the Golden Eagles would continue to pull away as they led 60-56 with just over four minutes left in the game.
However, it was a freshman who provided the veteran-like spark as Slaughter drained a three with 3:45 left in the tilt. She would ended up with 18 points on 8-8 shooting on the night.
Tech continued to drain threes to keep their lead, and held a 65-64 lead with just 1:27 left in the game, with Missouri needing a set of clutch possessions to pull this one out.
Pingeton’s team continued to play aggressive basketball in the paint and it paid off as the Tigers continued to draw fouls and drain free throws, and a set of Hannah Linthacum shots from the charity stripe handed the Tigers a 66-65 lead with 1:02 left.
With eight seconds left, Missouri’s turnover woes again got the best of them as they turned the ball over and gave the Golden Eagles the final possession of the game and the chance to secure a devastating walk-off victory for their first win of the season.
Jennifer Sullivan shot a last-second floater that just bounced out of the basket as time expired, and the Tigers survived an absolute nail-biter to walk away with a 66-65 victory.
Statistically, the Tigers shot 22-43 from the field while the Golden Eagles shot 21-58, and while the Tigers outshot them by 15%, the shot volume from the Golden Eagles was a direct result of them outrebounding the Tigers 33-26 and 14-4 on the offensive boards.
As far as what the Tigers can take away from this victory, it’s a tally in the win column and they found out once again that they can rely on the freshman Slaughter to make veteran plays down the stretch. Missouri finished this game with 15 turnovers, and if the issue doesn’t get fixed soon this team is going to have a rough go in conference play.
UP NEXT: Missouri takes on Kent State in the second installment of the Daytona Beach Classic on Saturday, November 25th at 4:45 PM CST.