Tigers' defense masters Mustangs

Defense wins championships — but MU fans might breathe easier if the Tigers could find their own basket on a more regular basis.

Though watching Missouri's offense Thursday night at the Hearnes Center was possibly more painful at times than having teeth pulled, it must have been even worse for the Southern Methodist faithful. Their Mustangs (1-2) could only manage 51 points as No. 13 MU (3-0) let its defense do the talking en route to a 66-51 victory.

Missouri's offense was balanced once again, with Simeon Haley tossing in a career-high 13 points to lead a quartet of Tigers in double figures. Kelly Thames, Derek Grimm and Julian Winfield joined Haley with 10, 11 and 12 points respectively. Haley also pulled down six rebounds.

"I really feel confident this year," Haley said. "It's like a whole new turnaround for me, I guess you could say. I'm going into the game looking at myself as one of the top three options [on offense]."

However, the real hero for MU was its defense, which shut down SMU. Especially in the first half, during which the Mustangs could only eke out a point a minute — a halftime total of 20. However, instead of having SMU put away at the intermission, the Tigers led 26-20.

"Twenty points, that's the thing the defense can do for you," Missouri coach Norm Stewart said. "You don't have to score very much."

Thursday night Southern Methodist would have had trouble finding the Missouri River with a shot off a river boat, considering its 30 percent effort from the field. Oddly enough, though, eight of the Mustangs' 16 field goals came from behind the 3-point arc.

SMU did have the game-high scorer in Troy Matthews with 18 points. Yet, finding offense from anyone else was a chore.

"Matthews stepped up and hit some shots," SMU coach Mike Dement said. "Other than that, we've got to get help from someone else."

Dement attributed his offense's shutdown to the MU defense.

"If they're blocking shots inside and denying the jump shot," Dement said, "that's pretty much gonna take away your offense."

While the MU defense was stellar, Stewart perceived a lack of concentration from his team that had an adverse effect on its offense. The result was no motion. When MU did turn around the offense it was because of better movement. In the last three minutes of the game, MU scored 12 points to cement the win.

"One thing I did like," Stewart said, "is that the last 3:46 in we started moving rather than standing."

Giving the Tigers their nightly boost was Grimm, who started. Struggling with his shot early in the season, Grimm picked an opportune time to break out of the slump with three 3-pointers on four attempts.

"I've taken so many shots the last couple games that I've got to hit some every once in a while," Grimm said. "I think I got my feet lined up and was looking for my shot a little more tonight. When I'm out there, I guess that's the best way I can help the team."

His six points in the sleep-inducing first half kept the Tigers out in front. In the second half, his 3-pointer from 23 feet out four minutes into the half ignited a 10-0 Tiger run, putting MU up by 14, a lead that would never again drop below nine.

Missouri gets one more chance to fine-tune its offense before its showdown with Arkansas on Tuesday night. At 2 p.m. Saturday, Chicago State (0-2) will come calling at the Hearnes Center.

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