COLUMBIA — Missouri trailed by as many as 10 points near the end of the third quarter but stormed back to beat No. 18 Texas A&M 70-65 in overtime Thursday behind 22 points and 12 rebounds from Sophie Cunningham and 18 points and nine rebounds from Amber Smith.
The win was hugely important for the team's postseason seeding and kept Missouri undefeated at home in conference play this season. It was also Cunningham's 10th 20-point game of the season, a feat she's accomplished all four years with the program.
"Texas A&M's got a great team, Gary (Blair) is a great coach," head coach Robin Pingeton said. "They're tough. I'm just really proud of our players. We had some pretty intense conversations after that LSU game and really challenged our players. I felt like there was another level of heart and toughness that our players could be playing with and give them all the credit, they responded."
The Tigers (17-7, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) and Smith had a chance to win the game in regulation. With six seconds to play, Smith got the ball underneath the basket, took a dribble out and then tried a backdoor pass to a cutting Cierra Porter because she saw Aggies' star guard Chennedy Carter helping up. But Carter sniffed it out, stole the pass, and got the ball ahead to Kayla Wells, who rushed a jumper contested by Lauren Aldridge as time expired.
"Thank the Lord," Smith said of her reaction when Wells' shot missed.
Aldridge made a 3-pointer, one her three in the game, on Missouri's second offensive possession of overtime with 4:07 to go, and neither team scored until there were 32 seconds left on the clock, when Cunningham scored a jumper to push the Tigers' advantage to five. She was 4-of-4 at the foul line down the stretch and 8-of-9 in the game, and the team shot 15-for-20 at the line after a dismal foul shooting performance contributed to a loss at LSU.
Carter, one of the NCAA's most prolific scorers, was again unstoppable, scoring 29 points. But 20 were in the first half and she scored just one point combined in the fourth quarter and overtime. Carter, who played all 45 minutes, said she was trying to move the ball and get her teammates involved and Missouri's defense wasn't playing her any differently. Wells scored 18 points and center Ciera Johnson added 10.
"We knew she was going to hit a lot of tough shots," Jordan Roundtree, one of Carter's primary defenders, said. "She's a really good player, and you don't realize it until you have to guard her. We spent a lot of time working on it and we knew we were going to have three or four of us guarding her. We knew she probably wasn't going to come out of the game, so just being able to trust each other to guard her, trust our gap D, it was really a team defensive effort. She's a team effort."
The Tigers jumped out to a quick lead thanks to eight first-quarter points from Cunningham, but Carter and Wells got going in the second quarter and Texas A&M took the lead briefly before Missouri fought back to take a 34-32 lead at halftime.
The Aggies used a 13-2 run that started in the middle of the third quarter to widen their gap to 10 with 42 seconds left, but an Aldridge corner 3 cut the deficit to seven entering the fourth quarter and kept the game from getting out of hand.
"She had a couple really timely 3s for us," Pingeton said. "I'm really proud of her, I know there was one point in one of the timeouts I jumped on her pretty good because she passed up an open look, and she doesn't get a lot of open looks, we need her looking to score the ball, so I felt like all of her made 3s were really timely for us."
Texas A&M had the overall edge in rebounding, 47-46, and on the offensive glass, 21-13, but scored just 13 second-chance points and shot 31 percent overall and 5-of-19 on 3s to Missouri's 39 percent and 35 percent on 3s.
"They took our inside game away, where we just were not getting anything," Blair said. "Folks, that was just a good basketball game. There isn't one play that won it for them."
Blair was blunt after the game, saying his team only has two outside shooters in Carter and Wells. Those two combined for 47 of the Aggies' 65 points and 51 of the team's 74 shots, and Texas A&M had zero bench points.
Cunningham was blunt, too.
"I am not shading them, but they are a team that you can out-team, and our team is really good at out-teaming opponents," she said. "It's the Chennedy show for them, and that's not just me saying that, the whole nation knows that. When they're not clicking, it's easy to out-team them and I think we take a lot of pride in out-teaming them tonight."
Missouri hosts Vanderbilt at 3 p.m. Sunday as Pingeton goes for her 500th career win.