Hot-shooting Missouri whips Mississippi State
Originally published March 1, 2014 at 5:43 p.m., updated March 1, 2014 at 8 p.m.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Keanau Post has always had potential. The junior-college transfer finally unleashed it Saturday afternoon.
Post tallied a career-high 14 points and seven rebounds, part of a resurgent effort from Missouri’s frontcourt, to lead the Tigers to an 85-66 victory against Mississippi State at Mizzou Arena.
“We’ve all seen Keanau, we know the skill set he has, and he can do some things that none of our other post players can do,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. “I just think that with him it’s all about confidence and believing in himself, and he’s gotten so much better at that.”
Post’s effort comes after scoring just 18 points all season, including eight in Southeastern Conference play. His previous high came all the way back on Nov. 16 against Hawaii, as Post scored six points. In fact, his 14 points — on 6-of-6 shooting, mind you — were the most by a Missouri player not named Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson or Earnest Ross in league play.
“The last few games I have been playing well and I think it is just a build up from that,” Post said. “Our guards did a great job moving the ball and passing, so you have to give them a lot of credit for that. … It felt great.”
The rest of the frontcourt followed Post’s lead, as the big men combined for 32 points on an astonishing 15-of-16 performance from the field.
Part of the frontcourt’s success can be attributed to Brown’s and Clarkson’s dedicated effort to get the ball to others. Following Missouri’s loss Tuesday night at Georgia, Haith held a private film session with the duo, imploring them to trust their teammates.
“We talked this week about trusting your teammates because I think when you lose trust you start to press,” Haith said. “It was evident on tape watching them. I just wanted them to understand that you take pressure off yourself if you trust your teammates. They did a good job of that and hopefully that’s something we can build on.”
The message must have sunk in, as Clarkson dished out seven assists and Brown added five more, part of a season-best 19 for the Tigers.
“I think first and foremost those guys (Missouri’s frontcourt) had some easy opportunities because of the penetration by the Missouri guards,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray said. “… I think there was maybe two legitimate post moves by those guys in the paint.”
Brown paced the Tigers with 21 points, Clarkson added 14 and Ross had 11, as Missouri connected on a season-best 33-of-53 shots (62.3 percent).
Fred Thomas led the Bulldogs with 18 points, while Gavin Ware added 13. Mississippi State played without its leading scorer, Craig Sword, who was attending his grandmother’s funeral.
“That’s one person,” Ray said of Sword’s absence. “One person is not going to stop you from shooting 62 percent from the field.”
It took Missouri longer than expected to run away from a Mississippi State team with an RPI of 223, the second-worst for any major-conference team ahead of only Virginia Tech. Ahead just 21-10 more than halfway through the opening 20 minutes, the Tigers used a 19-6 spurt to go up 39-26. A steal and emphatic one-handed jam from Clarkson highlighted the run.
Mississippi State got within 39-32 late in the half, but Missouri led 45-32 at the intermission after Post’s tip-in at the buzzer was ruled good after a video review.
One area of concern for Missouri, in a continuation of a running theme, was Missouri’s inability to guard the 3-point line. Mississippi State entered play Saturday averaging an SEC-worst 4.6 3-pointers per game. The Bulldogs canned a half-dozen before heading to the locker room and finished 10-of-24 from beyond the arc.
After five first-half points, Post continued his career game in the second half, scoring six of Missouri’s first eight points.
Missouri led comfortably the entire second half — by double digits the whole way — and by 15 or more the majority of the time.
“It felt good not to have to come down to the last two or three possessions,” Haith said. “These games become fun when everybody has a hand in what happens, and winning. Everybody had a hand in us winning tonight.”
Up 53-39, the Tigers rattled off 15 straight points, highlighted by a vicious two-handed slam from Torren Jones in transition. The freshman took off from the SEC logo in the middle of the paint to dunk it home and make the score 65-41.
Clarkson canned a 3 on the next possession and Missouri led 68-41. Mississippi State finally ended a 6 minute, 5 second scoring drought when Jacoby Davis drained a 3 with 10:06 to go, ending the Tigers’ run.
Missouri’s biggest advantage came at 74-46 on a 3 from Ross with nine minutes remaining.
Mississippi State (13-16, 3-13 SEC) dropped its 11th straight game.
Missouri (20-9, 8-8 SEC), which captured its sixth straight season with at least 20 wins, hosts Texas A&M at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena.
“This is March now and we do not want to lose any games in March,” Brown said. “March is our money time and we try to make the most of it.
“We are fighting for something and not everybody is in the position to make the (NCAA) Tournament. So just cherish that and go out and play as hard as you can and have fun.”
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