COLUMBIA, Mo. - First-year Missouri coach Kim Anderson challenged his power forward Johnathan Williams III at halftime. After the game, Williams thanked Anderson for the much-needed motivation.
"You're welcome," Anderson said with a chuckle. "Thanks from all of us."
Whatever Anderson said must have worked, as Williams scored 12 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the second half Tuesday to lead Missouri to a 65-61 defeat of Southeast Missouri State.
"He got on me a little bit, and I think I kind of needed that," Williams said. "But I can handle the coaching. I'm not a player who's not going to listen to the coach. I'm going to listen to him and understand what he's trying to say and try to do better, and I think I did do better in the second half."
William's 18 points were a career high.
"I yelled at him tonight," Anderson said. "I said, "You've got to quit being such a nice guy. You've got to be a meaner guy,' because we need that."
SEMO got out to a hot start against Missouri, scoring just four seconds into the game to take a lead they would hold for the next 29:18. The Redhawks led by as many as 11 points and took a six-point edge into halftime.
"I think SEMO came out and threw the first punch," Williams said.
The sight was a familiar one for the Tigers, who fell to an in-state opponent from a smaller conference when they lost their season opener to Missouri-Kansas City.
"We knew we can't lose to no more of these schools out here in Missouri," said Keith Shamburger, who finished with 11 points. "We lost to UMKC, and that one hurt us a lot. We didn't want to do that anymore. Coach told us the fans probably left us at halftime, so we had to pick it up early."
Though the Tigers shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, they were hampered by their seven first-half turnovers, three of which came via Shamburger. The Tigers were without their usual starting point guard, Wes Clark, who has been suspended indefinitely from the team. Shamburger, who typically starts at the shooting guard position, played 39 minutes at the point, and freshman Namon Wright made his first career start in lieu of Clark.
The Tigers bounced back in the second half, continuing to shoot 50 percent from the field and catching fire beyond the arc. The Tigers made six-of-seven 3-pointers in the second half, similar to an eight-of-nine spurt to close out a defeat of Oral Roberts two weeks ago.
This time, however, the Tigers needed a little luck. During a string of three straight 3s made by the Tigers, Montaque Gill-Caesar hit a bank shot from beyond the arc and D'Angelo Allen, rarely an offensive presence, heaved up a three as the shot clock ran down to put the Tigers up 57-54, their first lead of the night.
"I thought this game tonight contained a lot of "hope' shots by both teams," Anderson said. "Shots that maybe weren't off the offense or they were late shot clock shots. But that's basketball."
The Redhawks could have used some hope at the free-throw line. SEMO hit just 5-of-14 free-throw attempts in the four-point loss.
"It went down to free-throw shooting for us," SEMO coach Dickey Nutt said. "Bottom line. End of story. It's free-throw shooting. We hit half of those, now we win the game."
Missouri had a rough night from the line as well, hitting just 8-of-15 free throws.
The Tigers came out slow and struggled at times to keep players from getting to the rim.
"First half, you could've driven a truck down that lane a couple times," Anderson said.
The slow starts are nothing new for the 4-3 Tigers.
"I think we're an extremely slow starting team," Anderson said. "We've tried all different ideas."
The Tigers will need to avoid a slow start Friday, when the Tigers take on No. 22 Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.
"I don't know about punching first, but we better not get punched, because this is our first true road game," Anderson said. "We're going to a great venue, and I'm sure they'll have a great crowd. We'll have to fight off that first punch, and whether or not we can apply it or not, we've just got to make sure we don't get knocked down."