Missouri edges Tennessee 75-70
Originally published February 15, 2014 at 5:58 p.m., updated February 15, 2014 at 11:30 p.m.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Jabari Brown saved the Missouri Tigers again.
After hitting the game-winning shot Thursday night against Arkansas, the junior guard came up with the game-saving defensive play during Saturday’s 75-70 victory against Tennessee in front of a season-best crowd of 14,132 at Mizzou Arena.
With Tennessee in possession down by three with 7.7 seconds left, Brown stole the Volunteers’ inbounds pass and saved it to Johnathan Williams III before falling out of bounds. Williams hit the ensuing free throws to clinch a resume-building win for the Tigers.
“We knew (Jordan) McRae (who finished with a game-high 31 points for Tennessee) was going to get the ball at the end and I was able to switch it out. The guy threw it, and I was able to make a play on it,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Brown’s defensive heroics came after he hit a pair of free throws with 15.2 seconds remaining to extend Missouri’s advantage to 73-70.
“I thought Brown made plays to win the game and get to the free-throw line,” Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin said.
All of that came after a prolonged scoring drought from Missouri’s top two scorers. Brown went 22:37 of game time without a point after scoring at the 13:06 mark of the first half. Jordan Clarkson topped that, going scoreless for 31:12 after hitting a jumper with 15:26 to go in the opening half.
“I thought we were taking good shots and running good offense,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. “Jabari isn’t going to just force shots because that’s what he does. He’s a mature player. He’s very patient in what he does. We ran some plays for him and he made some big shots (later in the game). We want to make sure we run good offense and I thought our guys brought good offense. We shared the ball and we got good production out of a lot of guys.”
Added Brown: “They were just being very physical, and the referees let us play. To their credit, they did a good job of that and teams are going to key in on us.”
Still, the pair accounted for 15-of-18 points during a crucial stretch in the final minutes of the game to take Missouri from down 57-55 to up 73-70. Brown finished with a team-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Clarkson was held to a season-low seven points, his first time in single digits. Earnest Ross chipped in 15 and Williams had 10.
Missouri threatened to run away with the game early. The Tigers connected on eight of their first nine shots, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range, to spark a streak of 11 straight points for Missouri that gave the Tigers a 15-5 advantage. Brown accounted for 11 of Missouri’s first 19 points, at one point outscoring the Volunteers 11-9 alone, which coincided with a 20-6 run that put Missouri up 24-11.
Tennessee responded with an 13-2 surge to get within four, and it stayed in that range until Missouri went up 41-37 at halftime.
“I thought we got out to a slow start with our transition defense,” Martin said. “We dug ourselves a hole and were able to bounce back.”
With Brown and Clarkson held in check for long portions of time, an unlikely source provided a spark.
Missouri’s frontcourt combined for 29 points, including 19 in the opening half. An alley-oop dunk from Williams off a pass from Clarkson in the final minute of the first 20 minutes highlighted the performance.
“We got great production from all of our post guys,” Haith said. “Every one of those guys that played gave us something positive. It was great to see and we need that as we take a move forward.”
Torren Jones (eight points), Tony Criswell (five) and Keanau Post (four) provided valuable minutes.
“In some of those droughts that the guards have, it’s like, ‘Who else is going to be scoring?’” Jones said. “It’s kind of on us to pick up the slack.”
The second half was a back-and-forth affair, as Missouri and Tennessee battle through eight lead changes and five ties. Neither team led by more than four points until a floater from Clarkson with 2:10 left gave Missouri a 70-65 edge.
Then came an almost fatal sequence. Up 71-65 with 47 seconds left, this is what Missouri did: Missed free throw, fouled a 3-pointer shooter (Josh Richardson) who made all three, turnover and fouled an off-ball Volunteer (Richardson) who hit a pair of foul shots. That got Tennessee within 71-70 with 18 seconds left.
But Brown was there to rescue Missouri again.
Richardson added 16 points for Tennessee (15-10, 6-6 Southeastern Conference), while Jarnell Stokes had 13.
Missouri (18-7, 6-6 SEC) closes out a three-game homestand Wednesday against Vanderbilt.
“It was a great win for us,” Haith said. “Quick turnaround playing a team that I think is an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. We had to bring it.”
Notes: Missouri connected on 26-of-46 shots Saturday, good for 56.5 percent from the field. … The Tigers attempted just five 3-pointers, their lowest amount since taking five against Kansas on Feb. 10, 1996.
The Missouri football team was honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. Not only was it an opportunity to show off the Cotton Bowl trophy, it was a chance for the Missouri faithful to show its support for Michael Sam.
Sam, who came out as gay last Sunday, was greeted with the largest ovation. As he walked off the floor, Sam treated the crowd to his signature sack dance.
Head football coach Gary Pinkel was awarded a framed jersey with “102” on the back to signify his record-breaking 102nd victory at Missouri. Pinkel passed the legendary Don Faurot on the all-time wins list with the Tigers’ 41-31 victory against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
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