There's no denying that from a certain perspective, this season has been brutal. Saturday, against Arkansas, that continued.
Yet, after the game I found myself strangely at peace. I was at peace, because at this point I know this season is a rebuilding one. I know that Arkansas needed that win WAY more than Missouri did. I also know that Arkansas winning really helps their NCAA tournament resume in giving them another road win, and the SEC needs that. I've given up the fear of losing as a fan. I want to see these guys stay together and fight, and they did.
If Wes Clark was half as nervous as I was leading up to those free throws, I completely understand why he missed them. With that said, this wasn't a case of Kiwane Garris. Garris completely alligator armed both shots. Clark's had ever chance to go in. I said at the time...
Damn. Soft front rim doesn’t fall for either shot. Tough loss for this young group.— Sam Snelling (@SamSnellingRMN) January 24, 2015
As a free throw shooter, you put the ball softly on the front of the rim, you're going to get it to go in most of the time. The iron was unkind to Clark, but he had an otherwise brilliant performance. A tough shooting night, but 5 rebounds and 6 assists means that he was making a big difference. Plus two big shots down the stretch, and a big assist to Montaque Gill-Caesar on a late three to tie the game.
If I'm in a fight, I want Wes on my side.. My boy is fine.. We wouldn't have been in that position without him. #ToughAsTheyCome #OTTNO— Tramaine Isabell (@oTrillMaine) January 25, 2015
It's one this for the coach to say this, it's another for the players to be outwardly vocal about it. This is another example of why I like Isabell, he's tough and he's a great teammate.
Wes Clark today established himself as the leader of this basketball team for the remainder of this season and the next 2 years.— Kim English (@Englishscope24) January 24, 2015
English was one of two people not on the staff or roster to make sure the Wes had support at the end of the game (the other was Gary Link). English is also a guy who loves his school and is close to the program. It was great to see him be there to help pick Wes up, because we all know what sort of player Wes is. He's ultra competitive so as upset as anyone was in missing those shots, nobody hurt more than he did. It's easy to love that kid for that reason. He's a Tiger, and he's going to be one of the main reasons why this program gets back on the map.
That said, let's get to this wrap-it-up stuff... (also StatSheet.com is down, which means no fun graphs)
1) Who Dictates Pace?
This is a clear win for Mizzou. They weren't going to win a game in the 70's or 80's, and the game was right where Missouri needed it to be. The game pace was right at 60.9, and Missouri was able to control the basketball in a way they really haven't all year. They've done a solid job of mucking up games against better teams, but the ability to control the ball against the press was fantastic.
2) Jumpers Can't Fall
After a REALLY hot start (I think Arky was hitting at a 63% rate early before a combination of the Missouri defense clamping down and some ill advised shots) Missouri was able to find the relief they needed as Arkansas struggled to hit outside shots. The Razorbacks shot just 4-16 from beyond the arc, and if it wasn't for some outstanding offensive rebounding done by the Hogs in the second half, they wouldn't have been ahead at the end.
3) Momentum Plays
Arkansas had exactly one run in the game. A run is typically considered scoring 6 points or more in a row, or outscoring the opponent by more than 6 points over a span. That run took a tied score at 9, and gave Arkansas a 15-9 run. They DID NOT HAVE A SINGLE RUN BEYOND 5-0 the REST OF THE GAME. That's remarkable, and a prime example of preparedness by the coaches and players, game management by the leaders on the court and sideline, and confidence by the young guys.
The FULL BOX (nsfw)
The difference in rebounding. For a notoriously poor rebounding team, Missouri kept pace with Arkansas, even having a rebounding advantage of +10 in the first half. If there was a reason for the loss is may have been giving Arkansas too many second chance opportunities in the second half. But... GROWTH!
The number of points off turnovers scored by Arkansas. If that isn't a season low for the Hogs I'll be surprised.
The difference a healthy Teki Gill-Caesar can make for this team. When he was on the court, Missouri was 10 points better. We've missed you, Montaque. Welcome back.
Michael Qualls shooting percentage, thanks in part to the defense played by Wes Clark. Qualls was hounded by the smaller faster defender, and struggled to consistently make baskets.
Minutes played by Freshman and Sophomores. Out of 200, that's 76%. Only Keith Shamburger had an impact on the game as an upperclassmen, and Keanau Post played 16 minutes. 0 minutes from Juniors.
When all this is done, remember that 3/4 of the minutes played this year are going towards underclassmen. Underclassmen eventually become upperclassmen, and when that happens for this group of players, they'll be better off.
This was always going to be a process, and we're still in the ugly part of it. Later in the week we'll have some more coverages on a few topics, but one thing I'll be jumping in on is the job that Coach Kim Anderson has done to this point. This season has been complicated, to say the least. I think we'll try to uncomplicate it as much as possible.