Once again, both the good and bad was on display for Missouri basketball on Saturday morning. The Tigers saw a monstrous lead fade away but regained its composure in the second half that helped fend off Loyola-Maryland 78-70 to improve to 5-2 on the season.
“It’s not perfect basketball,” Missouri head coach Dennis Gates said. “But it’s basketball that ends up with a win as we continue to galvanize and get better as a team.”
It was team captains Nick Honor and Sean East II who helped the Tigers pull away totaling 14 of Missouri’s final 19 points over the final 10 minutes of play. In the second half, Honor was money from behind the arc knocking down all three of his 3-pointers in the second half, his last building a 13-point lead with under eight to play.
“I spent a lot of time working with coach Charleton Young on my shot and just extra reps in practice,” Honor said. “I know Coach wants me to shoot more.”
The Greyhounds found Baltimore cut it to single digits, but East kept it arm's length scoring all eight of Missouri’s points within a three-minute stretch pushing the lead back to ten, and once Loyola-Maryland made one last push to once again bring it within eight, it was the graduate from Louisville, Kentucky that added a drive and finish to the bucket essentially putting the game away.
Missouri’s three veteran leaders the Tigers all afternoon. Noah Carter finished with 18 points on 60% shooting to go along with four rebounds, three steals, and a block while East and Honor combined for 27 points. Honor led the team with a plus minus of 10, while East collected a team high four assists.
It appeared as if Missouri finally got off to the fast-convincing start that we’ve been waiting for all season against a mid-major team. After letting Arkansas-Pine Bluff, SIU-Edwardsville, Jackson State, and South Carolina State all put up 30-plus points before halftime, Missouri’s defense came out strong against the Greyhounds. It appeared as if Gates lit a fire under the team during practice three days after struggling out of the gate against South Carolina State on Wednesday.
The Tigers came out with an attack that forced Loyola Maryland into 10 first half turnovers. The high intense full-court defense forced by Honor and East helped build an early 8-3 lead, complemented with Carter stepping outside the arc and knocking down a pair of early triples. Missouri’s defensive aggression was contagious as Carter went on to collect three steals while Jesus Carralero-Martin collected another once leading to a Tamar Bates score.
Anthony Robinson collected five steals to go along with his 10 points. In all, the Tigers forced 18 turnovers throughout 40 minutes of play.
“Ant Robinson is playing with an abundant amount of confidence,” Gates said. But more importantly, when you can come away with 10 points, five rebounds, five steals, he’s a tremendous player and he’s going to continue to get better.”
By the time the under eight timeout hit in the first half, Missouri had already screamed to a 31-9 lead over the 1-4 members of the Patriot League, a much better brand of basketball through the first 10 minutes, than what Dennis Gates liked the previous game against South Carolina State.
But, one shot can change everything in college basketball. Missouri found that out in the Barn over a week ago in the Twin Cities. This time it wasn’t in Mizzou’s favor.
A Milos Illic jumper snapped a 16-0 run by the Tigers and from there on the Greyhounds offense woke up while Mizzou’s offense went south.
D’angelo Stines and David Brown III both ended up combining for 25 points, and started raining down wide open 3-pointers from behind the arc, and the Greyhounds run snowballed downhill to 17-0.
“I credit a good offensive system,” Gates said. “Me and Tavaras Hardy, we’ve been knowing each other since we was 12 years old. He’s one of my best friends and it’s one of those things where I knew his team would fight back as his personality. He’s a fighter, a true fighter.”
By the time Caleb Grill snapped the streak with a putback layup, the Greyhounds were only down five, which was cut to four as Missouri went into the locker room with just a four-point 35-31 advantage. A 23-point lead went just like that.
Gates mentioned that the Tigers outright lost the middle 10 minutes of the game, but the second half adjustments were enough for the Tigers to cruise to an eight point victory.
“I think ultimately just making sure we maintained the ball. I thought they put us in a situation where their points in the paint was greater than ours. We ended up winning by two,” Gates said. “They were dominating their second chance points. We didn’t get second chance points but once we started getting our second chance points we were able to cut into that lead and get a lead going.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the rest of the season, with Central Arkansas being the only non-major team left on the schedule. Missouri heads on the road on Tuesday to play in the inaugural ACC-SEC challenge where the Tigers will face Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center, “The Pete.” The Tigers and Panthers will face off at 6:30 PM CT on ESPNU.
While it hasn’t been a pretty stretch for the Tigers the past few weeks, Gates is appreciative of being able to go through adversity early in the season.
“I’m appreciative of how our guys are handling it right now,” Gates said. “I’d rather go through the ups and downs, learn from a win, learn some lessons here and there from the two losses we have, but there’s some good film that we can learn from tonight.”