Defense leads to offense in Missouri win over Alabama

The Tigers held Alabama to a season-low 50 points.

Alabama’s performance at Mizzou Arena Saturday afternoon would never be confused with poetry. The Crimson Tide shot 30% from the field and scored 50 points, their lowest output of the season. Alabama coach Nate Oats said it was by far his team’s worst offensive performance of the year.

But on the other side of an ugly offensive game was a dominant defensive performance from Missouri. It was one of the Tigers’ best all year and one that eventually led to a solid offensive second half as well.

“I just think we defended the way I thought we could defend throughout the season,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “You have to give up some against a team like this because they can score the ball.”

What Missouri gave up, Martin explained, was some interior defense at the expense of locking down Alabama’s perimeter shooters. The plan worked, as the Southeastern Conference’s top 3-point shooting team made 4-25 from behind the arc.

“Our bigs did a great job of making sure they hedged,” guard Javon Pickett said. “They pushed them out. Our guards were able to get back in front of the ball, and just defend. It was a great team effort on both ends of the floor, but on the defensive end, I feel like we did a great job of scrambling, making sure that we contested those shots.”

Junior guard Dru Smith picked up two steals, adding to his team-leading season count of 64. While only two showed up on the stat sheet, Smith caused several more of Alabama’s 18 turnovers by taking away ball handlers’ space and getting his hands on the ball, often deflecting it off of an Alabama player to flip possession.

“I don’t think it’s something that you really can practice,” Smith said. “Just playing with instincts and just really just being in the right spot.”

For all of its success preventing baskets, Missouri wasn’t particularly good offensively, especially in the first half, missing all seven of its 3-point attempts and committing 12 turnovers.

But in the second half, the Tigers came out playing with more tempo. They kept getting stops, only now those stops were leading to more fastbreaks and easy baskets.

“We wanted to do that from the beginning,” Pickett said. “In the second half we really got to do it … on the defensive end, I felt like we were pressuring. We got loose balls so we was able to run. We just gotta continue to keep playing like that. When we play fast, I feel like we a good team.”

“We started locking up way harder and that translated to our offense,” forward Mitchell Smith said. “So usually we take our defensive energy and we translate to offense, good things happen.”

The energy in the second half was crucial for the Tigers in what was a close game until the final five minutes. The shots weren’t falling at the beginning, but at what Missouri could control the most — hustle, running hard, diving for balls, getting back on defense — it succeeded.

“It’s huge because the momentum can swing any which way at that point," Mitchell Smith said. “So once I feel like we had the momentum, it was kind of wraps from there. We just kind of ran with it after that.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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