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Strong defensive effort leads Missouri past Alabama

Missouri's Johnathan Williams III, left, Earnest Ross (33) and Ryan Rosburg knock the ball away from Alabama's Nick Jacobs during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 68-47.

Missouri's Johnathan Williams III, left, Earnest Ross (33) and Ryan Rosburg knock the ball away from Alabama's Nick Jacobs during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 68-47. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri has been a work in progress on the defensive end of the floor this season. Head coach Frank Haith believes the Tigers delivered their best defensive performance of the year Saturday afternoon.

It’s hard to argue against that claim. The numbers back him up.

Missouri (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) allowed a season-low 47 points while limiting Alabama (8-9, 2-2 SEC) to 29 percent shooting as the Tigers used a dominant second half to secure a 68-47 victory at Mizzou Arena.

“I thought defensively we were outstanding,” Haith said. “The back line of our zone and Johnathan Williams III was just terrific. We had great close outs.

“I think Alabama is a really good team and I think that we did a really good job. We are getting better and better on the defensive end. … Obviously, I thought second half we were outstanding.”

The 47 points also marks Alabama’s lowest scoring output of the season.

“I think our length on the perimeter and on the backline with Williams III (were big factors),” Haith said. “Our big guys all have good length, quickness and good feet. If we are active, shrinking the gaps, rotating and having good closeouts then it can be a positive factor. When you are not as aggressive and when you are not assertive and you are not using your length, you become a nonfactor. I think this was the best game we had with guys doing work early and anticipating it and having great closeouts.”

Jabari Brown led the way for the Tigers offensively with 24 points on 7-of-9 shooting. The junior shooting guard showed off his versatility, hitting 3-of-5 3-point attempts, driving to the hoop with regularity and connecting on 7-of-8 foul shots. Point guard Jordan Clarkson scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half while Earnest Ross rounded out the Big Three in double figures with 12 points.

“Missouri is a pretty good team when you look at Jabari Brown, who I think is one of the elite guards in the league if not the country,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. “… He hit some big shots for them and got to the free throw line.”

Alabama’s Trevor Releford, who entered Saturday as the SEC’s fourth-leading scoring at 18.9 points per game, was held to a season-low 10 points.

“We wanted to keep six eyes on him,” Brown said. “He’s one of the best players in our league and we know he’s capable of going for 20 or 30 points every game. We just had to key in on him and know where he was at at all times and I feel that we did a good job of that the whole game.”

Shannon Hale paced the Crimson Tide with 12 points while Retin Obasohan added 11 and Levi Randolph had 10.

It was a battle of runs in an opening half that saw six lead changes and three ties. After Missouri opened up a 7-0 advantage capped by a drive and dunk from Ryan Rosburg, Alabama repsonded with a 12-2 surge of its own. Missouri added another 7-0 run before several spurts from both teams left the Tigers ahead 31-30 at halftime.

“Coach Haith just said we played a good half, in terms of effort we were playing hard,” Brown said of the opening 20 minutes. “… We just had to keep getting good shots on offense. I feel like our defense turned into a lot of transition opportunities and I think that was one of the keys.”

It was all Missouri after the intermission. Especially on the defensive end. Alabama scored just 17 points and shot 17.4 percent from the floor after halftime.

“The numbers tell you in the second half we really struggled when you look at it from an offensive productivity standpoint,” Grant said. “I have to give Missouri credit for the defensive game plan that they had on us. They took away some of the things that we’ve been able to do well. We weren’t able to get out in transition and get easy buckets at the clip we needed to. They did a really good job of forcing the shots that they wanted us to take.”

A 10-2 run to open the second half handed Missouri a 41-32 advantage it wouldn’t relinquish. Clarkson accounted for the first two buckets of the surge in the first minute of the session after sitting out the final 12 minutes of the opening half with foul trouble.

The surge prompted an Alabama timeout not even four minutes into the period. The Crimson Tide never recovered, as the Tigers continued to run away with the game.

After Missouri went ahead 45-34 on an acrobatic drive from Brown that culminated in a reverse layup with 14 minutes to play, the Tigers led by double digits the rest of the way.

Missouri’s biggest lead came at 66-44 on a pair of free throws from Ross with 1:24 to play.

Missouri doesn’t have much time to savor the victory, traveling Tuesday to LSU for a 6 p.m. tipoff.

Notes: Saturday’s attendance was a season-high 11,003. … Williams grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds for Missouri, just missing out on a double-double with nine points. … Missouri and Alabama combined for 44 fouls and 56 foul shots.

Related video:

Video

Mizzou Network: Frank Haith 01-19-2014

Mizzou Network: Frank Haith post-game interview

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