BUFFALO, N.Y. — He was the one person Missouri seemingly didn’t have an answer for.
Missouri was well-versed in Clemson’s up-tempo style of play, but what to do about all-ACC senior forward Trevor Booker?
The Tigers’ frontcourt was already depleted. Junior forward Justin Safford was injured, and sophomore forward Laurence Bowers had his left wrist taped up due to torn ligaments.
To compensate for Safford’s absence, Bowers, senior forward Keith Ramsey and sophomore center Steve Moore all saw their minutes stretch. With all that is a backdrop, Missouri seemed to be facing a major challenge in containing Booker.
But despite all that, Missouri answered the challenge. Thanks to defenders draping him all game, Booker’s influence was minimized in Missouri’s victory over Clemson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Booker was held to 11 points, most of which came at the very end of the game. Although he did pull down 11 rebounds, Booker never went on a game-changing run.
“We were just harassing him,” Ramsey said. “If he got past one person, he had to get past the next.”
Early on, it seemed Missouri’s attempt to control the ball down low backfired when Clemson hit seven of its first nine 3-pointers.
Once things cooled down on the perimeter, Clemson dumped the ball into Booker and junior center Jerai Grant often in the second half. Grant had no trouble getting above the rim, but Booker was held relatively silent.
“We didn’t want him to go off,” Bowers said. “Grant it that (sophomore guard Andre) Young was killing us, all their guys were shooting 3s, but we did not want Booker to hurt us. I think we did a pretty good job containing him.”
One reason why Booker was kept quiet was Missouri earning its reputation as one of the best stealing teams in the country. The Tigers stole the ball from Clemson 15 times and forced 20 turnovers overall. The 20 points off those turnovers were critical, but so was keeping the ball out of Booker’s hands.
As long as Missouri had the ball, he couldn’t score.
“We’re a defensive, blue collar, gritty team, and I think it showed today,” sophomore guard Kim English said.
Missouri kept things clamped down on Clemson overall. With the game tied going into the second half, Missouri held Clemson to 38.9 percent shooting. By keeping the ball rolling on the offensive end, Missouri managed to build a modest lead during that time, and Clemson would not recover.
“I thought we were in attack mode,” coach Mike Anderson said. “I thought we got some key guys on their team in foul trouble. (Senior forward David) Potter got in foul trouble. (Junior guard Demontez) Stitt got in foul trouble.”
It’s usually Booker who makes Clemson tick, and Missouri contained Clemson by neutralizing its offensive leader.
“Going against Trevor Booker, it was a big challenge for Keith and myself, and we just wanted to step up for it,” Bowers said.
By keeping Booker controlled, Missouri passed its first test in this NCAA Tournament sure to be filled with more challenges.