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Tigers struggle to put away Broncos, 66-60

Tigers struggle to put away Broncos, 66-60

December 15th, 2013 in News
Missouri's Ryan Rosburg puts up a shot while being defended by Western Michigan's Mario Matasovic during Sunday night's game in Columbia.

Missouri's Ryan Rosburg puts up a shot while...

Photo by The Associated Press/News Tribune.

COLUMBIA - At least it wasn't a loss.

That's the positive for the 24th-ranked Missouri Tigers. However, a sluggish and sloppy performance from the Southeastern Conference's last unbeaten team left much to be desired.

Missouri (10-0) could never really shake the Western Michigan Broncos (5-4), managing a 66-60 victory Sunday night at Mizzou Arena despite a season-low point total.

"I knew they were a capable team," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. "... It's good for us to have one of those types of games that we have to scrap it out to get a "W.'"

Jabari Brown paced four Tigers in double figures with 15 points. Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross added 12 apiece while Tony Criswell had 10.

It was Missouri's first game since a victory Dec. 7 against UCLA.

"We just came out flat and didn't do some things that we wanted to do," Missouri forward Ryan Rosburg said, brushing off any excuses about being rusty following the long layoff between games.

Missouri looked every bit like a ranked team in the early going. Down 5-3 one minute in, the Tigers used a 14-2 surge over the next seven-plus minutes to go up 17-7. Six players found their way into the scorebook during that stretch.

It didn't last.

With the score at 19-9, Western Michigan began to creep back in the game. The Broncos went on a 13-5 run to get within 24-22 with 2:08 left in the first half.

The Broncos were aided by a long field-goal drought from Missouri, as the Tigers boasted just a Rosburg dunk as the only made field goal in a stretch of eight minutes, 55 seconds.

Brown finally knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:01 left before intermission to spark a string of seven straight points for the Tigers to close the half. Missouri's lead was 31-22 at the break.

The first half was a clinic on how not to play basketball. Western Michigan made just 9-of-34 shots (26.5 percent), including an abysmal 2-of-16 mark from beyond the arc (12.5 percent).

"We shot the ball really poorly in the first half," Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins said. "I thought Mizzou did a nice job defensively on us there, too."

While Missouri did shoot 12-of-23 (52.2 percent) in the half, the Tigers turned the ball over a whopping 11 times and hit just 2-of-7 long-range attempts.

"Our execution was poor," Haith said. "We couldn't hold on to the ball early. We got the ball knocked out of our hands."

Western Michigan continued to put a scare into Missouri in the second half. It began by cutting the deficit to 35-33 on a 3 from Austin Richie with 17:06 left. The Broncos wouldn't go away, getting within two points three more times. The final instance came on a 3 from Charles Harris with 10:51 remaining to put the score at 47-45.

Shayne Whittington bricked a short baseline jumper on the Broncos' next possession, missing out on an opportunity to tie it. Missouri responded with a 9-0 surge over the next two-plus minutes - beginning with a Wes Clark 3 - to finally create some separation.

"Every time we got right there, got it cut to two, their big-time players stepped up and hit big-time shots," Hawkins said. "That sort of kept us at arm's distance."

Missouri went up by as many as 12 - at 58-46 - on a jumper from Tony Criswell, but Western Michigan responded with the next six points to make things interesting again.

The Broncos got within 63-58 on a pair of free throws from Brown in the final minute, and later had a 3 rim out in the final 10 seconds that would have cut the lead to two.

Wittington kept up his double-double average with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Brown led the Broncos with 18 points while Connar Tava added 10.

"My pizza will taste just fine here in a little bit. This one we can put behind us because our effort was good," Hawkins said, alluding to the fact Western Michigan scored just 35 points in a loss to Northwestern in the Broncos' previous game.

Missouri is 10-0 for just the 10th time in program history and only the third time in the past 32 years. The Tigers are back in action at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against Illinois in the Braggin' Rights game at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

"Very talented," Haith said of the Illini. "... We'll worry about them a little bit later. They're a good team."