Missouri gets high-profile victory by beating Florida

Missouri’s Alex Oriakhi fights his way through a pair of Florida defenders on his way to the basket during the first half of Tuesday’s game in Columbia.

Missouri’s Alex Oriakhi fights his way through a pair of Florida defenders on his way to the basket during the first half of Tuesday’s game in Columbia. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — Missouri had been searching most of its season for a high-quality win that might impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

It got what it was looking for Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.

Trailing nearly the entire game against fifth-ranked Florida, Missouri put it all together in the final minutes and downed Florida 63-60 in front of more than 15,000 fans.

A missed 3-pointer at the buzzer by Mike Rosario sent Mizzou Arena into a frenzy.

Roasario got a good look, but it fell short as time expired.

“It’s a huge win, especially coming off a loss,” Missouri forward Laurence Bowers said. “… As far as going forward, we’re going to take it one game at a time.”

Bowers had a game-high 17 points in arguably his best effort since returning from a knee injury late last month.

The win was not only big for Missouri’s postseason chances, but also for its confidence going forward thanks to the way it unfolded.

Missouri trailed nearly the whole game, including by 13 in the second half. But the Tigers rallied, and took their first lead of the game, 58-57, on a layup and foul by point guard Phil Pressey.

The Gators (21-4, 11-2 Southeastern Conference) retook the lead on the ensuing possession as Scottie Wilbekin hit an off-balance 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Florida a 60-59 lead with 1:26 remaining.

The Tigers (19-7, 8-5 SEC) answered quickly with a jumper from the elbow by Laurence Bowers to take a 61-60 lead with 1:11 left.

After a quick shot by Boynton gave the ball back to Missouri, the Gators seemed to catch a break when Pressey launched a wild 3-pointer from the top of the key with 20 seconds left. Earnest Ross got the rebound but was called for traveling, giving the ball back to Florida.

But Boynton missed another 3-pointer with less than five seconds left. Bell hit a pair of free throws to put Missouri up 63-60 before Rosario’s miss.

“When you’re down by one you at least want some penetration,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said.

Missouri’s second-half rally moved the Tigers to 15-0 at home.

Missouri coach Frank Haith said he was particularly pleased with how his team handled itself coming back from the deficit.

“When you get down by 13, there’s not a 13-point shot,” Haith said.

Florida looked like it might run away with the game early in the second half.

Pressey’s two free throws with 19:10 cut Florida’s lead to 29-28. But the Gators went on a 19-8 run to take a 49-36 lead with 11:34 left, thanks to four 3-pointers in the stretch.

But that’s when the Tigers got back in the game. Missouri used a 12-0 run of its own in the next three minutes to cut the deficit to 49-48.

It was back and forth from there until Missouri took its first lead on Pressey’s three-point play.

“It’s a big win for us,” Pressey said. “I think everybody who played tonight, including the bench, contributed.”

Missouri looked like it might get blown away in the opening minutes. Bolstered by strong shooting, Florida jumped out to an 18-6 lead with just more than 12 minutes left in the half. The Gators led 29-18 with 4:38 left before the Tigers ended the half on an 8-0 run.

The Gators went the final 5:04 of the half without a field goal as Missouri chipped away, trailing 29-26 at halftime.

Florida struggled in the closing minutes of the half, missing its final seven shots.

Jabari Brown added 12 points for Missouri while Ross had 11.

Rosario led Florida with 14 while Kenny Boynton added 11.

The win was a big boost to Missouri’s NCAA Tournament resume, which lacked a marquee win to date. It was Missouri’s first win against an RPI top-25 team this season. With its remaining schedule, it was likely Missouri’s last chance before the SEC Tournament to get such a victory.

Missouri’s players don’t seem to be going with the big picture, instead taking it one game at a time.

“We needed this win, it was the next game on our schedule,” Bowers said.

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