Saturday when visiting Nebraska was forcing Missouri to play its style of basketball, sophomore guard Miguel Paul imposed his own will on the Cornhuskers.
Paul scored a career-high 15 points in 16 minutes on five-of-six shooting from the field, including two-of-three from beyond the arc. Building momentum off the sophomore’s breakout performance, Missouri (15-4, 3-1 Big 12) passed another conference test by taking down Nebraska 70-53 at a sold out Mizzou Arena.
“To see him step up in a game of this magnitude, it was good to see,” coach Mike Anderson said.
With one other Missouri player scoring in double-digits (senior guard Zaire Taylor with 12), Paul’s performance became more vital, especially playing against a Nebraska team that came into the game with the Big 12’s best scoring defense.
Nine of Paul’s points came in the second half, and a few critical baskets enabled Missouri to pull away.
“Miguel coming in, giving us the energy and the play that he did and the production that he gave was very big for this team,” senior guard J.T. Tiller said. “It definitely gave us the lift we needed to get over that hump.”
That “hump” included Missouri’s offense getting reigned in by a relentless Cornhuskers defense. The Tigers went into halftime clutching a 28-26 lead on 37.9 percent shooting.
The Tigers couldn’t get it going until midway through the second half. The first 10 minutes of the half had the Cornhuskers behind Missouri but never by far.
Enter Miguel Paul.
With 8:43 left in the game, Paul hit two free throws to increase Missouri’s lead to 49-44. A couple of plays later, the sophomore’s three-point play gave the Tigers a 10-point lead.
After adding another two points, Paul was prowling around the 3-point line with about four minutes left. The sophomore moved to his left, stopped at the top of the key, and drained a 3-pointer that brought Mizzou Arena to its feet and gave Missouri a 15-point advantage. Finally, Missouri had shaken off the Huskers.
“To me it wasn’t much more about his offense, it was about his defense, just his energy, his activity out on the floor,” Anderson said. “He was disrupting what was taking place out there against a Nebraska team that came out there with a game plan that they were going to grind it out.”
Paul teamed up with junior forward Justin Safford (game-high 11 rebounds) to fuel Missouri’s attack.
“It’s easy when you got people like Justin rebounding,” Paul said.
Despite being flustered most of the game, Missouri’s offense wore down Nebraska enough to pull away at the end.
“That’s what Coach has been emphasizing,” Safford said. “The last 10 minutes, that’s 10 minutes we want to really impose our will. That’s where we get our second wind and really take it to them.”
Missouri’s last road trip included an overtime win at Texas Tech that saw the Tigers wilt near the end of regulation and a loss at Oklahoma that saw the Tigers unable to answer near the end of the game.
Anderson liked what he saw from his team this time around.
“I was glad to see our guys really step it up in the second half,” Anderson said. “It looked more like the team that we talked about, finishing the game off strong. And we did.”