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Mizzou Hoops pulls away late against Ole Miss, clinches double-bye

The Tigers avoided upset with a 82-77 victory over the Rebels, clinching the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament in the process.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri men’s basketball ended its regular season in a fashion that described its season—unpredictable, back-and-forth and eventually refreshing.

“From day one, nine months ago, (each player) gave us their hearts, and I’m appreciative of this group for being able to give that,” Missouri men’s basketball coach Dennis Gates said. “It’s not easy to trust and give your heart to a stranger, and they gave me theirs.”

Facing Ole Miss (11-20, 3-15) in their regular season finale Saturday, the Tigers capped off an improbable regular season with a 82-77 victory. Missouri (23-8, 11-7) withstood a second-half push from the Rebels, who overcame an 11-point deficit to take their own one-point lead with three minutes remaining.

The contest featured 18 lead changes, 11 ties and a pair of runs from each team totaling at least six unanswered points. Missouri prevailed in this battle of runs, however, closing the game on an 11-5 stretch.

Graduate guard D’Moi Hodge, playing in his final Missouri home game, drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer with two and a half minutes remaining and the Tigers held on behind points from graduate guard DeAndre Gholston, senior forward Noah Carter and graduate guard Nick Honor.

However, like times of the past, it was four-year starter Kobe Brown, who came through when it matter most. The senior forward tallied a team-high 17 points and added seven rebounds for yet another signature performance in what may be his final Mizzou home game.

“It was definitely a fun moment to play in front of a crowd like that for four years to bring Mizzou basketball back” Brown, who did not reveal his plans for next season, said.

Carter matched Brown’s total with 17 points, adding five rebounds and three assists as well. Hodge and Gholston also scored in double figures, totaling 14 and 15 points, respectively. The former also excelled on the defensive end with another five-steal performance.

The Tigers, following No. 11 Tennessee’s loss to Auburn earlier in the game, controlled their own destiny. With a victory, Missouri would earn a double-bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. However, with a loss, a No. 7 seed was still in play.

“A double bye, that’s what you try to play for, but we were playing to win a SEC Championship,” Gates said. “We feel short of our goal.”

Despite that added motivation, the Tigers struggled to shake a determined Rebels’ squad led by junior forward Jaemyn Brakefield and sophomore guard James White. Brakefield scored a team-high 18 points, while White tallied 14.

Perhaps the most impactful Ole Miss player was senior forward Myles Burns, who notched a double-double, his second of the season, with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

However, sloppy play epitomized the first half for both teams, which included 14 total turnovers, a four-for-23 tally from behind the arc and eight different lead changes. At the halftime horn though, Missouri held a five-point advantage.

Gholston and Brown accounted for over half of the Tigers’ first-half points. The former tallied 12 points, adding three rebounds and two assists, while the latter totaled nine points and four rebounds.

Brakefield provided a swift counter effort, scoring 10 of his points in the first half. Burns joined him with a nine-point, eight-rebound first half. The pair attacked Missouri’s paint consistently, a place the Rebels found success often.

Ole Miss shot nearly 70% within the arc, scoring 42 points in the paint. The Rebels finished 11-of-15 on layup attempts and made all five their dunk attempts. However, Ole Miss finished just 22.7% from beyond the arc.

It made that tally up via the free throw line, as the Rebels finished 16-of-18 from the charity stripe. Brakefield made all seven of his attempts, nearly matching Mizzou’s total by himself.

Missouri shot 11-of-13 from the free throw line, knocking down nine of those in the second half to help seal the comeback attempt. Brown finished with a perfect six-of-six from the stripe.

“Our guys executed,” Gates said. “You either want to come away with layups or free throw shots, and that’s where we were able to execute down the stretch.”

The Tigers built up to an 11-point first-half lead, capitalizing on an 18-6 run midway through the frame. Senior forward Noah Carter capped the run with a 3-pointer to put Missouri in full control.

Like times of the past though, it looked as if the effort may fall off as Ole Miss fought back. The Rebels closed the first half with four unanswered points before taking a one-point advantage with a 20-13 run to start the second half.

The effort fell short in the end, however, as Missouri’s senior leaders, and one freshman, made plays when it counted post.

Aidan Shaw grabbed an offensive rebound, one of his five rebounds on the day, with one and a half minutes remaining to give Missouri an opportunity for a second-chance basket up by just two points. Shaw finished with six points too, including two made dunks.

“It was great to see (Shaw) play 19, close to 20, minutes and impact the game how I know he can impact it,” Gates said. “It was beautiful to see.”

Gholston answered the Shaw’s offensive rebound with another one of his signature unorthodox jumpers to increase the lead to four points, a lead that would hold until the final buzzer.

The Tigers improved to 8-0 in games decided by five points or less, and they entered as the only team in the nation with at least seven of these victories. It’s a trait that’ll be crucial come tournament time.

“We’ve all come from good programs and we have a really good coach that teaches us every day,” Carter said. “I feel like (success in close games) is something that started at the beginning of the year, and we just rolled with it.”

Missouri cemented its spot in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers will receive a double-bye, earning the No. 4 seed and an extra day of rest. Although their quarterfinal opponent has yet to be announced, a trip to the SEC Championship game may have to run through No. 1 seed Alabama.