In what looked like a Missouri team still hung-over from the disaster that was at O’Connell Center Saturday, the Tigers still managed to pull off a nail biting win against the South Carolina Gamecocks Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 11,830, 71-65.
In a game where both teams were under 40% from the field and Missouri was 18% from beyond the arc, watching the first half of this game was like watching a contest in a brickyard, because neither of these two teams could throw a ball in the ocean. What saved the Tigers wasn’t defense, because there was next to none in the first half. No, what saved Missouri, ultimately was free throws.
Compared to South Carolina’s 17 free throw attempts, the Tigers had 36, and made 28 of them. That’s 19 more attempts and thankfully, 17 more makes that salvage an otherwise frustrating night on the offensive end of the floor.
Missouri played a lackluster first half, with dismal shooting by both teams, but allowed South Carolina to go into half time with an eight-point lead on the Tigers. When they came back out to start the second half, it was more of the same thing, and it looked grim for Missouri. With Laurence Bowers and Keion Bell out with injuries, and Phil Pressey in foul trouble, the offense just could not ignite.
Alex Oriaki and Earnest Ross were the keys that ignited the Missouri offense. Oriaki stepped up in place of Bowers and had 18 points and 11 rebounds, leading the team with his sixth double double on the year. Ross went 21 and 10 and helped spark the 18-2 second half run that put the Tigers in control. But South Carolina would not go quietly. With a few smart plays, the Gamecocks came roaring back and the game was back and forth until the final minutes.
The M-I-Z-Z-O-U chant filled the arena as the fans tried to give energy to their beloved Tigers.
In the final minutes, Ross made a key three pointer on an assist from Pressey to give Missouri the lead, 66-63 with 1:12 left in the game. After South Carolina stormed down the other end and Brenton Williams was fouled, he made his free throws to bring the gap within one, 66-65 Tigers.
Missouri took a timeout with 26 seconds to go and a one point lead. . When it brings the ball back in, Pressey is unable to get the ball. Ross finally broke open and drove hard to the lane, but kicked it out to Jabari Brown for the three at the last second. Brown sank the three, giving the Tigers a 69-65 lead with 17 seconds left to play.
South Carolina missed a layup, and Tony Criswell was fouled with five seconds left. He sank his free throws and the Tigers won, improving their conference play to 3-2, and overall record to 14-4. Along with Oriaki and Ross, Brown had a huge game for the Tigers, scoring 17 points and nabbing 7 rebounds.
Now, this is the second game in a row that Phil Pressey has underperformed. Granted, he was in foul trouble most of the second half, but looking at the stats, compared to overall play and conference play, Pressey is scoring 12 points a game compared to just 7 points a game. In conference play, he is 33% from the field, and 15% from beyond the arc, while in overall play, he is 36% and 30%. With these stats in mind, in a league where aggressive guard play is a deciding factor, will Pressey continue to struggle? If the answer is yes, this is a problem for our Tigers. Missouri needs to get healthy, and it needs to develop depth.
The Tigers take on Vanderbilt next on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.