Missouri tops Gardner-Webb 72-63 (VIDEO)

Missouri's Earnest Ross, left, Tony Criswell (2) and Johnathan Williams III (3) battle each other for a rebound while Gardner Webb's Logan Stumpf, right, stands by during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Columbia, Mo.

Missouri's Earnest Ross, left, Tony Criswell (2) and Johnathan Williams III (3) battle each other for a rebound while Gardner Webb's Logan Stumpf, right, stands by during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. Photo by The Associated Press.

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@AdamStillman87 reports

The News Tribune's Adam Stillman covered Saturday's Missouri vs. Gardner-Webb game. Follow @adamstillman87 on Twitter.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Gardner-Webb just wouldn’t go away.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs matched every run the Missouri Tigers made. For the first 30 minutes, that is.

Missouri scored 14 consecutive points midway through the second half to turn a one-point game into a rout, as the Tigers pulled away for a 72-63 victory Saturday afternoon at Mizzou Arena. Missouri stretched the lead to as many as 20 before Gardner-Webb got within single digits late.

“This is a group, Gardner-Webb, they won eight of their last 10 games (last year in the Big South) and they have played together a very long time,” Missouri interim coach Tim Fuller said. “That is what you get out of some of these smaller schools, is that guys aren’t thinking about going to the pros. They are thinking about doing the very best they can for their university. This is just our fourth game together as a group. We are still very much gelling and meshing into the unit that we need to be.”

Earnest Ross paced the Tigers with 17 points, Jordan Clarkson chipped in 14 and Jabari Brown had 13. Johnathan Williams III grabbed a whopping 17 rebounds, chipped in seven points and added one SportsCenter-worthy putback dunk in traffic.

“I have told people a long time ago that I felt like he could be one of the best rebounders in the country,” Fuller said of Williams. “He has the potential to be one of the best rebounders in the country. He showed that tonight.”

Eight of those 17 rebounds came on the offensive end.

“Back in high school, I had one of my coaches tell me to rebound out of your area and don’t let the ball find you,” Williams said. “You have to find the ball.”

Missouri opened the game on a 10-4 run, as five different players accounted for five baskets in the paint. The Tigers opted for jump shots, with a handful of turnovers mixed in, during the next few minutes as Gardner-Webb scored 10 straight points. Missouri knocked down just 2-of-14 3-pointers (14 percent) against the Runnin’ Bulldogs, a stark contrast to the Tigers’ first three games (43 percent).

“We tried to get inside today because the outside shots weren’t falling that much,” Brown said. “There’s going to be games like that.”

Missouri responded with eight consecutive points of its own and eventually took a 22-16 lead on a putback from Williams. Gardner-Webb used a 6-0 run to knot the game before Missouri took a 31-29 edge into halftime.

Jabari Brown finally knocked down the Tigers’ first 3-pointer of the contest at the 17:42 mark, giving Missouri its largest lead up to that point at 38-31. While the Tigers looked poised to run away with it, Gardner-Webb refused to capitulate.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs cut the deficit to 42-40 when Texas A&M transfer Naji Hibbert knocked down a pair of free throws following a technical foul on Brown with 14:53 to play.

Jerome Hill missed out on a chance to tie the game, hitting 1-of-2 free throws to cut Missouri’s advantage to 44-43.

Ryan Rosburg slammed home a thunderous dunk on the Tigers’ next possession that served as a catalyst for a 18-2 surge that put Missouri firmly in control. Missouri made a concerted effort during the run to attack the basket, which helped the Tigers to a 46-18 advantage on points in the paint.

“Establishing ourselves in the paint is something that we are going to continue to do,” Fuller said. “We are going to have to bring along paint touches whether it is through our post players or our guards driving the basketball. We are not going to be just a jump-shooting basketball team.

“For a stretch there we got away from that and we started just becoming a jump-shooting team and not pushing as much in transition. Part of that was (Gardner-Webb) coach (Tim) Craft changing defenses. I think we handled the challenge pretty well.”

Williams did Rosburg one better to cap the run, skying to jam home a rebound that resulted in an old-fashioned three-point play. The dunk put Missouri ahead 62-47.

Missouri’s largest lead came at 70-50 on a pair of free throws from Clarkson with 3:17 left.

Missouri connected on 20-of-25 free throws (80 percent) after hitting just 61 percent in its first three games.

“This is a team that when they have to make them, they’re going to make them,” Fuller said of Missouri’s free-throwing shooting. “We shoot them every day. I know they can be a great free-throw shooting team. We had them shoot 100 free throws throughout the course of the week, and we only had one player under 80 percent.”

Missouri (4-0) hosts IUPUI at 7 p.m. Monday.

Notes: The Antlers, a notorious group of Missouri students known for their sometimes-vulgar chants, were ejected early in the first half by the Missouri athletics department for inappropriate conduct. … The announced attendance was a meager 6,378.

Video

Mizzou Network: MU vs. Gardner-Webb 2013

View game highlights here if video fails to load automatically.

Earlier coverage:

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Johnathan Williams III grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds and Earnest Ross scored 17 points to lead Missouri past Gardner-Webb 72-63 on Saturday.

Missouri (4-0) only led by two points at halftime and foul troubles hampered its effort to pull away from the Runnin' Bulldogs, who were picked to finish second in the South Division of the Big South.

The Tigers won their 76th consecutive game at home against a nonconference opponent and their 21st in a row overall at Mizzou Arena.

Naji Hibbert and Jerome Hill both scored 17 points for Gardner-Webb (2-3).

The game marked the opening of the Las Vegas Invitational for both teams, who had never faced each other prior to Saturday. Although the matchup had no impact on the outcome of the tournament, both schools will travel to Nevada for games on Thanksgiving.

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