For 40 minutes of basketball, Missouri held the advantage over Wichita State en route to an 82-72 win at Mizzou Arena on Sunday.
Sean East II starred for the Tigers, leading the team in points (22) and assists (9) and tying for the team-lead in steals (3).
“I’m just trying to execute what it is that coach is trying to get out of me, trying to be the best leader possible,” East said. “If I have to get guys in the right spot and make the right reads in certain situations, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
His all-around performance was complemented by 46 combined points from Nick Honor, Noah Carter, Connor Vanover and Caleb Grill.
Mizzou was out-rebounded 48-31 in this game, but it made up for that by grabbing 13 steals and forcing 18 turnovers overall. That led to 20 points off of said turnovers and allowed the Tiger offense to find an easy rhythm on the other end.
As mentioned, Missouri led wire-to-wire in this game, never trailing yet never leading by more than 11 points.
Wichita State guard Harlond Beverly, a Miami transfer, did his best to prevent that from happening late in this game. The crafty junior went on a personal 7-0 run to cut the Missouri lead to 68-66 with 3:51 remaining, giving the Shockers their first true momentum swing of the game.
But, in a play that seemed to sum up the rest of this game, quick ball movement and an assist from East led to a wide-open Caleb Grill 3-pointer that turned the game back in Mizzou’s favor.
East then hit a 3-pointer of his own, and Wichita State could not find the bottom of the net when it needed to most down the stretch. Missouri iced the game from the free throw line to secure another key non-conference win.
“Let’s just keep it simple,” East said when he was asked about what he told Gates during a timeout in the second half. “We were getting easy buckets off of just pick-and-rolls and finding mismatches. We were panicking a bit, so I was like, ‘let’s keep it simple.’”
Gates apparently tried to call a play in the second half but it resulted in a turnover. After that, the coach said he just let his guys play freely.
The Shockers fought to gain a lead at every step of this game, continually keeping the deficit at seven points or less throughout the second half. But, with a raucous home crowd at its back, Missouri responded to every one of WSU’s runs and was able to stave off any sort of late rally.
That was in large part thanks to an emerging star that was playing in front of his former coach.
After he has seen increased minutes in recent games, Connor Vanover may have had his breakout performance in this one. He finished with 11 points, two rebounds, an assist and a block in just 16 minutes of action, and he scored nine of those points in the second half. His presence around the rim continues to have a major impact on how teams can attack the Tiger defense, but he also appears to be settling on the offensive end as well.
The Tigers maintained a comfortable advantage in the final frame thanks to a variety of sources, but it all started with the creativity of East. He racked up seven assists in the second half and was excelling in a free-flowing offensive scheme. The majority of the Missouri offense revolved around placing East in a simple on-ball screen scenario and allowing him to create on his own, and it was effective. His patience to let the play reveal itself and then take advantage of that with his handle and creative passing was on full display.
“He [East] knows the pulse of our team. He knows when to give someone a shot and he’s the first one to tell a guy to keep shooting,” Gates said. “He reads the game in a great way, and he’s been impacting the game defensively as well.”
Sluggish starts had plagued the Tigers throughout this season, including on Tuesday when it took them until the 12:43 mark to reach double-figures against Pitt.
Gates and Co. appeared to put those issues to rest against the Shockers.
Mizzou jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first four minutes of this game, forcing Wichita State head coach Paul Mills to call an early timeout. Nick Honor scored half of those points by hunting his own shot early on, while Noah Carter tacked on the other half as he continues to be a stabilizing presence for this team.
“This was a game where I thought we shot out of a cannon,” Gates said. “And we were able to do that because of our defense.”
The Shockers settled into the game after a sloppy start and responded with a 7-0 run of their own, but Mizzou led wire-to-wire throughout the opening half. WSU cut the Tiger lead to less than four on two more occasions, but the home squad had a ready response for every haymaker that came its way.
The battle on the perimeter was one to watch throughout this game, as the Shockers’ trio of Colby Rogers, Xavier Bell and Harlond Beverly attempted to really make things physical outside the arc and challenged Mizzou’s guards. The experienced Honor and East were up to the task, but Anthony Robinson II and Grill also really impressed with their willingness to go toe-to-toe with some of the AAC’s best.
That allowed the Tigers to record eight steals in the first half, which resulted in 16 points. Gates has frequently talked about creating more live-ball turnovers to spark this offense, and his team responded to that demand on Sunday.
Wichita State cut the Mizzou lead to 34-32 with 2:24 remaining in the half, but a 7-0 run that was sparked by an Honor 3-pointer allowed the Tigers to claim a 41-34 lead into the break. Honor and East led the way with 21 combined points, but it was the overall intensity on both ends of the floor that allowed Missouri to have such control over the game.
A Border War date with arch rivals Kansas looms, as Mizzou will venture to Lawrence for a meeting with the Jayhawks (7-1). In last year’s meeting, Bill Self’s team humbled a raucous Mizzou Arena to the tune of 95-67. The Tigers will be looking to flip the script at The Phog this time around.