Sprinting up the court, senior guard Keion Bell saw the defense collapsing on him as he moved toward the basket. The senior guard acted without hesitation and quickly spun around the defender for an easy layup before getting back on defense.
After running back up court, Bell stole the ball from Vanderbilt’s Kendren Johnson, trying to score before drawing a foul. The two scoring possessions formed the basis of the Tigers 32-2 run in the first half of the No. 22 Tigers’ (15-4, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) 81-59 win over Vanderbilt (8-10, 2-4 SEC) on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
"It just felt good to get back into action after sitting out last game,” Bell said. “The coaches have just been talking to me about energy throughout the year, and that is what I try to bring on the defensive and offensive end. I just try to bring a lot of energy to motivate our guys and get us going."
For a 10-minute stretch during the first half, Missouri dominated the Commodores, allowing only four points while maintaining a 22-7 rebounding advantage to gain a decisive lead in the game.
"We're moving our feet and we're doing our work early,” coach Frank Haith said. “We walled them up in the post, and we only gave them one shot. I thought that was the key and we got back to our rebounding ways."
Within the first three minutes of the game, Haith’s jacket was already off as his team struggled early against Vanderbilt's perimeter-based offense. At the start of the game, the Commodores had a 9-6 lead and only missed two shots. After falling behind by three and calling a timeout, Haith made the move for a full court press. Missouri then held Vanderbilt to only 11 points for the rest of the half, enabling them to pull away for good.
"We were completely outplayed today, really in every facet, so there's not a whole lot to say about this going wrong or that going wrong,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “They were much better, much faster, shot better, rebounded way better. Everything, every facet, they whooped us. There really isn't much to say about it."
Among the crowd Saturday was famed Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, as well as football coach Gary Pinkel, escorting recruit Ezekiel Elliot on his official visit to Missouri. Ezekiel, who has verbally committed to play running back for Ohio State, has ties to the Tigers inside his family. Both of his parents were athletes while they attended Missouri.
Behind the play of senior forward Alex Oriakhi, the Tigers’ were dominant on the boards with six of Oriakhi’s 12 rebounds coming during offensive possessions. Sophomore shooting guard Jabari Brown shot 8 of 12 from the field for a game high 21 points, his only misses coming off three-point attempts.
“I feel that every missed shot is a pass to me, so whenever our guard misses shots, I clean it up and I try to offensive rebound,” Oriakhi said. “I feel that is my offense."
Vanderbilt went on a 16-4 run to start the second half but was never able to regain their footing after digging themselves a 31-point hole earlier.
Coming in to the game, Vanderbilt had held opponents to an SEC best 25.5 percent from 3-point range. Seemingly no one could miss a shot Saturday, whether that be the Tigers, Commodores or the crowd. During halftime MU student Andrew Turpin won a free throw competition and then made a half court shot to win a $5,000 scholarship from Boone County National Bank.
“Obviously, guys are hitting shots and things were going our way,” Oriakhi said. “We have to understand we have to finish out the game strong. We know what it feels like to be on the other end so we definitely try to be humble about it, so you just try to finish the game strong."
With the Tigers’ comfortably leading by 25 points in the second half, Bell missed a layup, nearly fell to his knees and then jumped up for the put back against a Vanderbilt defender. It didn’t matter that Missouri had the game in the bag with six minutes left to play.
Bell, who Haith said earlier in the season is the best athlete on the team, would do anything to make the shot.
"I was eager to play after having some time off last week,” Bell said. “I felt that earlier in the game, you know we needed energy and we needed a spark. Somewhere along the line I just try to provide that spark.”