Missouri could ill-afford a home loss to South Carolina on their NCAA Tournament résumé. The Gamecocks nearly pulled off the upset on Tuesday, but the Tigers (18-6, 6-5) survived USC’s best effort and won 83-74 at Mizzou Arena.
Dennis Gates’ group had to overcome a 26-for-50 shooting performance from a South Carolina team that entered the game shooting at a 39.4% clip on average.
The Gamecocks (8-16, 1-10) may have recorded their best shooting percentage of the season, but Mizzou countered by shooting 50.9% from the floor and 48% from behind the arc. Kobe Brown led the way with 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals, making another claim for SEC Player of the Year Honors.
“He and I shared words early on, some that my mom would not like hearing, but he responded,” Gates said, explaining that Brown did not start this game how he wanted him to. “He responded how a potential conference player of the year should respond.”
Nick Honor, D’Moi Hodge and Sean East II combined for 39 points as well, and the Tigers scored 18 points off of 14 Gamecock turnovers.
With Missouri trailing 32-29 at the 5:00 mark of the first half and having looked sloppy throughout much of the game, the life was sucked out of Mizzou Arena.
Dennis Gates called a timeout in response, and the game changed from there. Aidan Shaw caught a lob from Brown with one hand and flushed it home. Then, he followed it up with a three-pointer to regain the lead for Missouri. A Hodge triple ensued, and the energy promptly returned to the arena.
The Tigers closed the half on a 13-5 run to take a 42-37 lead into halftime. After starting 5-for-5 from the field, Missouri was caught sleepwalking through the middle of the half.
Gregory “G.G.” Jackson II made the Tigers pay with three 3-pointers, while Hayden Brown (10.5 points per game) did the dirty work down low, leading the team with 12 points in the first half.
However, Missouri closed out strong on both ends of the floor. They forced six South Carolina turnovers in the final five minutes and hit three of their final four field goals. Hodge shot the lights out, ending the half with 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting from behind the arc.
Missouri also managed to figure out how to keep Josh Gray off the offensive glass. After he snagged three of the Gamecocks’ misses in the opening four minutes, South Carolina only reeled in three more as a team during the half.
“For every two hands they had on the ball, we had four,” Gates said. He cited how his guards really picked up the slack on the glass as the game went on.
Both teams came out in the second half red-hot from the field. Jacobi Wright hit two three-pointers for South Carolina to start things off, but Missouri responded with two of their own from Honor and Brown.
The Gamecocks continued to hang around, fighting back from being down 57-49 at the 14:53 mark to make it a one-point game five minutes later.
Going 12-for-25 from the field in the second half enabled them to keep pace with the home team, as Jackson II and Wright took over this game on the offensive end. Every time Mizzou looked like they may pull away, South Carolina hit a timely bucket to keep the pressure on the home team.
“Our quality of shot was pretty good,” South Carolina coach Lamont Paris said. “We played within ourselves and did some basic things that yielded some high quality attempts.”
Then, the Tigers took control of this game. They went on a 7-0 run after the Gamecocks cut the score to 69-65 at the 5:48 mark, salting the game away. This victory marked the most home wins Missouri has recorded since 2013.
“It’s not easy being able to win games in February,” Gates said. “You have to be able to have a detailed level of focus, and you have to continue to do the small things.”
The Tigers will get their lone shot at No. 6 Tennessee (19-4, 8-2) in their next outing. The game will take place on Saturday, Feb. 11 in Knoxville, TN and can be seen at 5:00 p.m. CST on the SEC Network.