DeAndre Gholston worked down the court, launched a 3-pointer from the bottom of the logo and drilled a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to shock No. 6 Tennessee.
“The team kind of looked at me and said, ‘make something happen,’” Gholston said.
Gholston’s buzzer-beater, his second of the season, helped the Missouri Tigers (19-6, 7-5 SEC) avoid a complete second-half collapse to the Tennessee Volunteers (19-6, 8-4) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols mounted a 17-point comeback in the second half behind graduate guard Tyreke Key, who tallied 21 of his team-high 23 points in the second half alone.
However, for the second time in the past week, Tennessee watched as its lead evaporated in the final seconds at the hands of an opponent. Vanderbilt’s Tyrin Lawrence beat the buzzer to hand the Vols a loss on Wednesday.
“We knew that Tennessee was coming off an emotional loss,” Missouri men’s basketball head coach Dennis Gates said. “We knew that they were going to be very emotional coming into this game but also comfortable.”
The Tigers’ Quad 1 victory would not have been possible for Mizzou if not for a missed free throw from Santiago Vescovi followed by a Tennessee lane violation with just four seconds remaining, giving the Tigers an opportunity at victory.
“We knew that if we were down three or two, we had to go for the 3-point shot,” Gates said. “That’s what we did, and Dre Gholston nailed it.”
Saturday’s matchup featured yet another game between polar opposites, as the up-tempo Tigers (No. 8 adjusted offensive efficiency) challenged Tennessee’s tenacious defense (No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency).
Offense prevailed this time around, as Mizzou knocked off a sixth-ranked Tennessee program for the second time in three years. Exactly two years and 19 days ago, the Missouri Tigers waltzed into Thompson-Boiling Arena and knocked off the No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers, and history repeated itself once again.
Senior forward Kobe Brown added another impactful night in the signature victory. Brown, who is making a case for the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, scored 21 points and added five rebounds.
Adding to his standout performance, the guard duo of senior Sean East II and graduate D’Moi Hodge tallied 17 and 14 points, respectively. They combined for six 3-pointers, providing the initial ingredients to a potential Tigers’ upset.
“(Hodge and East) were able to click on cylinders, they were defending, they were able to make shots (and) they were able to get their teammates involved,” Gates said.
Mizzou, using this hot-shooting, finished the first half on a 29-12 run and improved to 16-0 in games with at least eight 3-pointers this season. The Tigers finished 14-of-26 from beyond the arc against the nation’s best 3-point field goal defense.
Brown and Hodge began the flurry early with four combined 3-pointers, but Tennessee built a 17-12 advantage through its offensive efficiency, a characteristic that had not presented itself lately for the Vols.
Zakai Zeigler (11 points), Vescovi (16) and Jullian Phillips (4) led this early punch, attacking the paint and capitalizing on an offensive rebound as well as a Tigers’ turnover.
Amidst this push, the Vols knocked down seven of their first 11 shot attempts while holding Mizzou to a 25% mark from the field. At the same time, however, Tennessee worked into the Tigers’ pace, a disadvantage for the Vols once Mizzou started knocking down shots.
The Tigers responded with a hectic run to end the half, making 10 of their final 14 shot attempts before the halftime buzzer sounded, including seven consecutive makes at one point.
East led that charge, accounting for five of those baskets. He finished the first half with a team-high 12 points on a 5-7 tally from the field to help the Tigers build a 44-32 halftime lead.
“I thought we got out to a great first half,” Gates said. “(It was) without a doubt one of the best halves we’ve had.”
Mizzou continued to build its lead into the second half, extending its advantage to 17 points at one point in time. Even with that advantage, however, the Vols showcased why they’re one of the country’s top teams with a second-half run.
Tennessee overcame that 17-point deficit, riding on the performance of Key. The veteran guard accounted for 18 of the Vols’ 20 points in a stretch midway through the second half that cut an 11-point Mizzou lead to just two points.
Vescovi added onto the run immediately after Key’s, drilling a pair of free throws before hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer to give Tennessee its first lead of the second half. That momentum carried with the Vols, who took a four-point lead with two and a half minutes to go.
Foul trouble played a large role in the Vols’ comeback. The Tigers committed 24 total fouls, including 17 in the second half alone. Tennessee finished 25-33 from the charity stripe, out-doing the Tigers who shot 12-17.
Gholston, the would-be hero, knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one-point with two minutes remaining, setting up the eventful final minute that featured Gholston’s first game-winner since Dec. 17.
Lost in the late-game magic was a block from Mabor Majak with three minutes remaining, which kept the game at a one-possession game for the Tigers.
“Mabor Majak won us the ballgame,” Gates said. “Dre hit the shot, (but) Mabor Majak put us in a position to hit that shot.”
Looking to build upon this emotional and signature road victory, Mizzou will continue its road trip with a visit to Auburn on Tuesday. The trip will likely mark the Tigers last shot at another Quad 1 victory.