Defense pushes Missouri past A&M in SEC tourney

Alex Oriakhi tallied another double-double as the Tigers dominated the Aggies in Nashville.

Missouri senior forward Alex Oriakhi dunks the ball against Texas A&M on Thursday night at the SEC Tournament. Oriakhi scored 13 of the Tigers' 62 points.

NASHVILLE — The No. 6 Missouri Tigers (23-9, 11-7 Southeastern Conference) avenged a mid-season loss to No. 11 Texas A&M on Thursday night in the second round of the SEC tournament.

Despite sloppy play from both teams and 12 second-half turnovers by the Tigers, Missouri was able to pull out a 62-50 victory.

The Tigers shot 46 percent from the field while holding the Aggies to a miserable 23 percent. Aggies guard Elston Turner was held to seven points, 15 less than his 22 in Missouri's Feb. 7 loss.

“We did a great job on Turner,” coach Frank Haith, said. “We wanted six eyes on him at all times. Keion (Bell) did an outstanding job.”

While the Tigers switched players on and off of Turner, senior guard Bell was his primary defender.

“I know that he’s a tremendous scorer, so I was just trying to make sure that every look he got at the basket was a difficult one,” said Bell.

Senior center Alex Oriakhi added another dominant performance with 13 points and 10 boards.

“A lot of the credit goes to my teammates,” Oriakhi said, “They gave me the ball when I was in position, all I had to do was dunk it.”

The Tigers had four players with double-digit scoring and out-rebounded the Aggies 46-31.

Senior guard Phil Pressey had a quiet night, only taking one shot, his only points coming on two second-half free throws. Still, Haith was quick to recognize his importance to the game. The Dallas native finished with five assists.

“Phil was great,” Haith said, “He controlled the game.”

The Tigers led 28-19 at the end of the first half, with the bench contributing 13 points. After a sluggish start to the second half by both teams, Missouri went on to dominate the game with defense.

Missouri held the Texas A&M without a field goal for an eight-minute stretch in the second half, while scoring 16 points of its own.

“When you don’t score, it makes it harder to play defense,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “You lose your defensive intensity.”

The Tigers continued to grow their lead throughout the remainder of the second half. Senior forward Lawrence Bowers scored a reverse from the left side to give the Tigers a 53-21 advantage, which matched their largest lead of the night.

Missouri’s second-half dominance was downplayed by a 10-2 Aggie run in the last minute of the game. The run was assisted by a technical foul from freshman guard Corey Haith with 20 seconds left.

Thursday night looked drastically different from the Tigers 70-68 loss in College Station back in early February.

“I think it’s just learning from our mistakes,” Oriahki said. “Our defense this time was a lot better than when we played them last time. Now the challenge for us is to do it again. We’ve got to do it again against Ole Miss.”

The Tigers play Ole Miss at 10 p.m. EST Friday night. The Tigers and Rebels split the regular season series, each winning at home. In their last meeting, the Tigers dominated with a 98-79 win.

Bell emphasized defense and rebounding as key to another victory over the Ole Miss Rebels.

“If we play well defensively and we rebound and limit them to tough shots and we just play solid on the offensive end, those will be the keys to victory,” Bell said.

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