BOISE, Idaho -- With all the hype and nerves that factor into the opening game of the NCAA Tournament, the Missouri Tigers came out and played their cleanest game of the season.
The Tigers turned over the ball a season-low four times and committed only 11 fouls in a 78-59 victory against the Cornell Big Red in Boise, Idaho.
“We’re a disciplined team,” freshman guard Kim English said. “For a team to play as fast as we can and have as few turnovers as we did, you have to be disciplined. Pretty impressive that we only had four turnovers.”
Control wasn’t Missouri’s focus coming into the game, coach Mike Anderson told his players to take the intensity to a new level.
“He said don’t come into the tournament tentative,” junior guard J.T. Tiller said. “We got to push it up a level. We’re trying to run and get up and down the court even more. I guess that had a reverse affect.”
Missouri’s full-court pressure didn’t create its usual “organized chaos,” instead it slowly wore down a Cornell team that relies on the jump shot to win games.
“I think tempo played a very important part in the game because Cornell is a very good offensive team half court wise,” Tiller said. “If you don’t get them out of their comfort zone they can definitely kill you with their shooting.”
Missouri found itself in an early 5-0 hole to start the game, when the Big Red were playing with their fresh legs. Cornell stuck with the Tigers just about all the way through the first half. The Big Red held a 23-22 lead with a little more than three minutes left in first half, but that was when senior forward Leo Lyons started to take over.
Lyons scored Missouri’s final seven points of the half, putting Missouri up 29-25 at the break.
“We had a little quickness advantage when it came to rebounding,” Lyons said. “I just tried to stay close around the rim and get a lot of those loose balls.”
Lyons and senior forward DeMarre Carroll were able to take advantage of their athletic advantage in the second half. Lyons finished the game with 23 points and 10 rebounds and Carroll had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The Tigers, who typically establish their offense directly off of defensive pressure, had to adjust to Cornell’s disciplined play. The Big Red only turned over the ball nine times, resulting in just 13 points off turnovers for the Tigers.
Missouri found its offensive groove in the second half as four different players scored in the first five minutes, giving Missouri a 40-31 advantage quickly out of the break.
The legs of Missouri were the difference from there. The Tigers shot 57 percent from the floor in the second half compared to Cornell’s 40.6 percent.
“I thought the second half was typical of our basketball team all season long,” Anderson said. “I thought we came out in the second half and had super energy. Our defense really triggered our offense. You can see the percentage, it went up.”
The Tigers also benefited from an impressive offensive performance by English who went 3-of-4 from 3-point range and had 13 points.
“You can’t shake his confidence,” Carroll said. “He could miss about thirty shots and he’ll come back and shoot us.”
Missouri will take on the Marquette Golden Eagles in the second round of the tournament at 3:50 p.m. Sunday in Boise. Marquette held off Utah State early this afternoon, 58-57.