Twenty seconds into Tuesday night’s game against Miami (Ohio), Mizzou seemed like it was headed for the same disappointment as Nov. 28’s ugly home loss to North Carolina Central.
The Tigers controlled the tip but whiffed on their opening possession, allowing the RedHawks to coast down the hardwood of Mizzou Arena to lay in the game’s first bucket.
It was just one basket, but it seemed a surprising start for both teams — Missouri, a power-conference team just a few years removed from a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament (and a subsequent shocking first-round upset to Norfolk State), and Miami University, ranked No. 302 of 351 teams on kenpom.com.
Could Missouri, once a feared team back when the on-court sounds of Mizzou Arena couldn’t be heard above the roaring crowd, pull off the same shocking loss from a week ago, albeit against a worse team? For a moment, doubt set in among the sparsely populated stands.
The Tigers quashed it momentarily by holding Miami scoreless for just over nine minutes to push the lead to 16-2, but the RedHawks weren’t quite out of the game yet.
Miami battled back to take a 24-23 lead on a three by Logan McLane with 1:58 left in the first half. Missouri sophomore point guard Terrence Phillips hit a critical 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in the period to give the Tigers a one-point edge at the break.
“Terrence’s shot before the half was big because we were really, really scuffling,” head coach Kim Anderson said.
The shot helped sophomore forward Kevin Puryear and the Tigers get their scoring started.
“That was a big momentum-booster for the second half,” Puryear said.
Anderson said the team had a “frank” discussion at halftime — not about the defense, but the state of the Tigers’ offense.
“We did some things schematically that I thought helped us,” Anderson said of the second half. “We got the ball moving, and we got some shots from the outside, which meant we could throw it inside.”
With Missouri’s offensive outburst in the second half, the omnipresent doubt from the first half was quickly relegated to some other game, against some other below-average team, on some future bleak day both inside and outside Mizzou Arena. The Tigers (5-3) dispatched both the persistent demons of disappointment and the RedHawks of Miami University (4-5), 81-55.
“I feel like we played a lot more relaxed and loose in the second half,” Puryear said.
Tasked with creating separation from their opponents, the Tigers got to it quickly in the second half. Freshman shooting guard Frankie Hughes tried to build on a 2-of-6 first half; he kicked off the period with a corner three as he was getting fouled and hit a free throw to finish a stellar four-point play. He then knocked down another (less painful) three from the same spot.
“Frankie gave us a great spark tonight and opened it up for everybody else,” Puryear said.
Sophomore guard Cullen VanLeer hit a three on the Tigers’ next possession to quickly stretch the lead to 10. By the under-16 media timeout, Missouri led by 14. Two minutes later, the lead was up 20, and it was curtains for the RedHawks. Mizzou ended up scoring 55 points in the half (Miami finished with 55 in the game).
Two old foes, shooting percentage and foul trouble, plagued the Tigers in the first half, though. They were masked by better luck from the field in the second frame.
Mizzou committed seven team fouls to put Miami into the bonus early in the first half, saddling forward Mitchell Smith, VanLeer and Frankie Hughes with two fouls apiece before the halftime break. Terrence Phillips, who has struggled to stay out of foul trouble all year, picked up his fourth personal with 6:12 left in the game but managed to avoid his fifth and stay in the game.
The Tigers shot 9-of-31 for 29 percent in the first half Tuesday. In the loss to NC Central, the first half featured a dismal 6-of-35 performance. Consistent shooting has been a bane for Mizzou all season; Hughes, the Tigers’ main scoring threat, hasn’t consistently shot at a high percentage. In nearly every game, Hughes has shown streaks of brilliance overshadowed by long periods of frozen futility. He showed it Tuesday night with three threes in as many minutes but finishing 4-of-16 from the field.
Even in a 55-point second half, the Tigers’ shooting percentage wasn’t optimal. They connected at a 44.4 percent rate from the floor, an improvement on the first period but less than necessary to trouble a quality opponent. It translated to a 37.3 percent rate for the game for Missouri; Miami shot just 30.5 percent, another sign of a Missouri defense outperforming its offense. The Tigers had four players — forwards Puryear and Russell Woods, Hughes and VanLeer — reach double figures thanks to their second-half eruption.
Woods scored all of his 15 points in the second half.
“Coach [Anderson] just gave me the confidence because I wasn’t really doing well in the first half…[Puryear] kept my head up,” Woods said.
The senior big, who shot just 39 percent from the free-throw line last season, knocked down seven of his eight attempts from the stripe Tuesday night.
On Saturday morning, the Tigers have a chance to measure their progress against a perennial tournament team as Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats, ranked No. 20 in the AP poll, come into Columbia for an 11 a.m. matchup to be broadcast on ESPN2.
“It’s gonna be a great test for us,” Puryear said. “And we’re excited.”
Edited by David Reynolds | firstname.lastname@example.org