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MBB Live Game Thread: Mizzou Hoops hosts Mississippi State in must-win matchup

A pair of NCAA Tournament hopefuls, both trending in opposite directions, meet in Columbia with the clock ticking down on March.

Syndication: The Montgomery Advertiser Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK

Missouri 66 | Mississippi State 64


1st Half Notes

  • That’s four straight offensive rebounds for the Tigers on their opening possession. Pigs must be flying. Ends with a foul on Tolu Smith.
  • Diarra maneuvers into the paint and finishes with a layup. He then dimes up D’Moi Hodge on a backdoor cut. Looks to be playing inspired basketball in his first start. All of this came after he missed two free throws.
  • Tre Gomillion enters the game.
  • A variety of student athletes take the floor to be honored for their academic success. Football, soccer, volleyball and cross country made an appearance. Confirmed sighting of Brady Cook.
  • Hodge with back-to-back threes, definitely appears to be in a rhythm. He has the ultimate green light tonight because MSU is answering every Mizzou three with one of their own.
  • Some of the better defense Mizzou has played in recent weeks.
  • Gomillion brings the gritty play that the Tigers lack. His impact is very noticeable on the glass.
  • 12:12: Not trying to jinx it, but Tolu Smith has not gotten a post touch from what I have seen so far.
  • A great defensive possession ends in a Mississippi State shot clock violation. Don’t know if it’s Gomillion’s intensity or something else, but this team is playing at a high-level defensively today.
  • Bulldogs with six fouls at the 9:36 mark of the first half. D.J. Jeffries with two fouls, heads to the bench.
  • Noah Carter with a “too small” after an easy lay-in.
  • 6:15: MSU retakes the lead at 22-21 off Eric Reed Jr.’s second three-pointer.
  • Another steal, and this time Kobe Brown gets a clean look at a dunk.
  • A full team effort on the defensive glass has prevented Tolu Smith from really making his mark.
  • Smith gets on the board, but Mizzou responds with a Noah Carter dunk.
  • Bulldogs are 5-for-13 from behind the arc in this game. That’s well above their season average.
  • MSU appears to be settling for shots from behind the arc. Smith has been open on a post-up on multiple occasions and has somehow been ignored.
  • Brown with a team-high four steals.
  • Diarra fouls on a three after Shakeel Moore got him on a pump fake. That’s his third foul of the game.

2nd Half Notes

  • Diarra is playing some great defense with three fouls. Smith just tried to go at him and couldn’t get a good look.
  • A paper airplane on the floor delays the game.
  • Mabor Majak gets into the game to spell Diarra.
  • Tigers need to attack the rim more and test MSU’s bigs. Everybody is shying away or settling for a floater as soon as they get into the paint.
  • Gomillion breaks a near-two minute scoring drought with an and-one. He has the Tigers’ past four points. Jeffries, Smith and Davis now all have two fouls for MSU.
  • 12:53: Diarra picks up his fourth foul.
  • Kobe Brown must have double-digit deflections in this game. He’s been incredibly active on the defensive end.
  • With Hodge not on the floor, who will provide the offense to keep this team in the game?
  • Brown with a one-handed lob from Nick Honor. This is the loudest Mizzou Arena has been all night.
  • Gomillion with a team-high five rebounds.
  • Another forced shot clock violation. Momentum has certainly swung in the Tigers’ favor.
  • 9:22: D.J. Jeffries picks up his third foul.
  • Brown is just playing some bully ball right now. If he gets the ball in the paint, he is planning on going through, not around, whoever is in front of him.
  • Diarra enters the game with four fouls.
  • Tigers are attacking the rim more than they have at any points in this game. It’s got them to the line multiple times, and they are now in the bonus at the 6:58 mark.
  • This is a first to 60 kind of game.
  • Is Mo Diarra iso on Tolu Smith now the offensive gameplan?
  • Diarra fouls out of the game, finishes with five points, four rebounds, two assists. One of his best all-around games to date.
  • A great dump-off from Hodge to Gomillion extends the lead to four with 2:59 remaining.
  • Gates takes a timeout.
  • Smith with a big rebound to draw a foul. He’s gotten more and more aggressive as this game has gone. He knows its winning time.
  • Brown knows it too. He gets to the line as well.
  • Hodge gets fouled with 21.4 remaining. Free throws will determine if Mizzou picks up the win.
  • Smith gets to the line off of a pick-and-roll. Lucky that it was not an and-one.
  • Gates icing the kicker on Smith’s game-tying attempt.
  • Video replay of the previous play where Sean East II had the ball ripped out of his hands.
  • Brown misses at the rim. Bonus basketball time.

Overtimes Notes

  • Honor hits a contested three to open the scoring. MSU, of course, responds with one of their own.
  • Smith gets deep position for an easy lay-in.
  • Gates takes a timeout.
  • Noah Carter with the biggest three pointer of his life. Tigers lead.

Pregame Updates

  • Ronnie DeGray III remains in a knee brace, does not appear that he will be playing tonight.
  • Hodge, Honor, Gholston, Brown and Diarra are your starters tonight.

5 Fan Questions:

  1. Who will lead the team in scoring?
  2. How many steals will D’Moi Hodge have?
  3. Will Mizzou have over or under 15 assists?
  4. How many points will Kobe Brown have?
  5. What will the halftime score be?

Lastly, drop your game predictions and MVPs down below.

Less than three weeks ago, a pair of NCAA Tournament hopefuls faced off in StarkVegas.

The matchup ended in a dominant 63-52 victory for the hosts, Mississippi State, over the visiting Missouri Tigers, who scored their lowest point total of the season in the defeat.

Tonight, in Columbia, the two will challenge each other once again with their contrasting play styles under first-year Southeastern conference head coaches. As it stands, this could determine the fate of both teams in their push to dance in March.

Mississippi State enters having won six of its past seven games, fighting back into the tournament picture. However, in the latest Joe Lunardi bracketology, the Bulldogs are slotted in the Last Four In, a distinction that would feature them clinging to the hopes of a NCAA Tournament bid.

Missouri, on the other hand, continues to descend seed lines after suffering defeats to Auburn and Texas A&M (No. 10 now). The Tigers’ inability to manufacture a half court offense against athletic defenses emerged once again in those losses and makes this game yet another toss-up.

Game Info

When: Tuesday, Feb. 21

Where: Mizzou Arena, Columbia, MO

Time: 6:00 p.m. CST

TV: SEC Network

KenPom Win Probability: 55%

The Starters


PG: Nick Honor (Grad; 8 PPG)

SG: D’Moi Hodge (Grad; 13.7 PPG)

SF: DeAndre Gholston (Grad; 10.4 PPG)

PF: Kobe Brown (SR; 16.4 PPG)

C: Noah Carter (SR; 9.0 PPG)

Key Depth: Guard Sean East II (SR; 8.3 PPG), Guard Tre Gomillion (Grad; 5.0 PPG) and Forward Mo Diarra (JR; 3.5 PPG)

Mississippi State

PG: Dashawn Davis (SR; 8.6 PPG)

SG: Shakeel Moore (JR; 9.1 PPG)

SF: D.J. Jeffries (SR; 8.8 PPG)

PF: Cameron Matthews (JR; 7.4 PPG)

C: Tolu Smith (R-SR; 14.9 PPG)

Key Depth: Guard Eric Reed Jr. (JR; 4.2 PPG), Forward Tyler Stevenson (Grad; 4.4 PPG) and Forward Will McNair Jr. (R-SR; 3.6 PPG)

*These starters are projected based on past lineups and pregame updates.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Get To Know Mississippi State

Mississippi State showcased what it’s about in the first meeting—defense and Tolu Smith.

The Bulldogs will enter tonight’s contest with the sixth-best defensive efficiency and rank among the nation’s top 60 teams in several defensive categories, including defensive effective field goal percentage (11th—45.2%) and 3-point field goal defense (20th—30%).

Not only does Mississippi State make shooting difficult, but the Bulldogs do not send opposing teams to the free throw line often. They average 15 fouls per game, the fewest in the SEC.

Mississippi State also forces a turnover on 22.8% of opponent possessions while averaging the country’s No. 5 steal percentage, grabbing them on 13.7% of opponent possessions. That defensive pedigree demonstrates the culture built under Chris Jans.

Jans inherited a Bulldogs program that hasn’t lost to Missouri since February 10, 2018, and is 9-1 against the Tigers in their previous 10 meetings. Under his direction, that success might very well continue for Mississippi State, who is the only team to rank inside the nation’s top 20 in scoring defense, opponent field goal percentage and steals.

Behind such a staunch defense, the Bulldogs already pose a serious threat on any given night. However, that threat grows even more when looking at the ‘center’ position, which features 6-foot-11 redshirt senior forward Tolu Smith.

The double-double threat dominates the paint, excelling on the offensive glass and showcasing an ability to draw fouls at the nation’s seventh-best rate. Smith has yet to attempt a 3-pointer this season and shoots only 55.7% from the charity stripe, so his dominance will come within the paint all night.

He tallied 25 points, 12 assists and a 9-12 night from the free throw line in the first meeting between these two foes. He’ll look to do it once again against a post defense that features little depth or defensive prowess on the Mizzou side.

D.J. Jeffries (10 points), Dashawn Davis (10), Tyler Stevenson (10) and Shakeel Moore (eight) were the only other players to record a point in the last meeting for the Bulldogs, who rely heavily on their starting five for point production.

Offensively, though, Mississippi State is a middle-of-the-pack group.

The Bulldogs are among the nation’s worst 3-point and free throw shooting teams, ranking dead last in the SEC in both. They also commit turnovers on 19.2% of their possessions, which will feed into Missouri’s defensive strategy.

For the most part though, Mississippi State’s success will be defined by the success of Smith in the paint and its 3-point defense. Exactly 56% of the Bulldogs’ points come within the arc, while their opponents earn 35.6% of their points via the 3-point line.

As evidenced just 17 days ago, polar opposites will once again be put to the test tonight.

3 Keys To The Game

1. Find an answer to Tolu Smith

Tolu Smith will be ready to wreak havoc on an un-intimidating Mizzou post defense, and it’ll be up to the Tigers to discover a technique to slowing him.

The Tigers’ zone defense did little to prevent Smith from overpowering opponents in his path, while man-to-man never worked to perfection. Missouri will aim to keep him as far from the basket as possible, as Smith’s inefficiency plummets the farther he is from the hoop.

An interesting decision will be whether the Tigers utilize Mo Diarra and Aidan Shaw in extended roles with an emphasis on playing more physical with Smith. While this may send him to the free throw line more, it may be better to ask him to beat you from the charity stripe given his weakness there.

Either way, the plan must center around stopping Smith. He poses the biggest threat to Mizzou, and it’ll be up to the Tigers to make someone else beat them. Although risky, it may be the best shot at a win.

2. Let D’Moi Shoot

Rock M’s own Adeen Rao pinpointed just how important Hodge’s success is in his latest piece.

It’s no secret that Kobe Brown is the heart and soul of the Missouri program, but Hodge may be even more vital on a game-by-game production basis. His 3-point ability seems contagious, and the Tigers will need that talent to spread against a defensive as stout as Mississippi State’s.

Mizzou will need to a go-to secondary star against the Bulldogs, and they should search for Hodge. At home and in front of a dedicated student section, the momentum should be there to build upon, so let D’Moi shoot.

3. Find a way to generate a half court offense

Without Isiaih Mosley, the Tigers struggle immensely in the half-court setting.

Those struggles will be compounded by Mississippi State, who will play shut down defense on the perimeter. Thus, Mizzou will be left with trying to solve its half court offense problem against a top-five defense, which is not ideal.

It’ll come down to the guards, specifically DeAndre Gholston and Sean East II, to jumpstart this idle offense with their playmaking and passing abilities. While it’ll risk a few turnovers, ball movement will be extremely important in making sure the offense doesn’t go stagnant yet again.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Game Prediction

My Prediction: Missouri 77 | Mississippi State 69

KenPom Prediction: Missouri 71 | Mississippi State 70

Betting Lines are typically announced 24 hours before tip, Check DraftKings Sportsbook for the odds once they’re updated.

Like the wise Parker Gillam said in his previous preview, it’s not easy to beat a team twice in a season.

Texas A&M overcame that mindset to take down the Tigers for the second time, but I don't think that feat will replicate itself tonight despite one heck of an effort from Mississippi State.

The Tigers have already been given a glimpse of Tolu Smith as well as the Bulldogs’ defense, and if not for a so-called ‘statistical anomaly’ on Saturday against A&M, Mizzou would have taken down another signature defense.

One thing Dennis Gates has excelled at this season is not allowing one loss bleed into a true losing streak. (Knock on wood) The Tigers have yet to lose three consecutive games, bouncing back from a two-game losing streak earlier this season.

It’s that mentality alongside home court advantage that gives me the confidence to pick Mizzou in a bounce-back performance. It’ll require big nights from Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge, but I think the Tigers send Mississippi State deeper in the bubble whilst cementing their place in March.