COLUMBIA — Turns out a home game against Georgia on Wednesday was exactly what No. 17 Missouri needed to rebound after a disappointing road loss.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Just days after struggling to find any offensive rhythm without team captain Laurence Bowers, the Tigers did a better job of creating and making open shots and also forced several Bulldog mistakes in a 79-62 win before a crowd of 12,797 at Mizzou Arena.
Missouri, which improved to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the SEC, committed 19 turnovers in a 64-49 loss at Mississippi on Saturday but only committed nine against the Bulldogs on Wednesday. Missouri also received better outside shooting, as it went 26 for 54 from the field (48.1 percent) and nine for 22 (40.9 percent) from three-point range while playing against the same zone defenses that Ole Miss used to hold it to 36.8-percent shooting (including 11.1 percent on three-pointers).
I thought we took better shots tonight, said Missouri coach Frank Haith. I thought we took a lot of contested shots down there we were much better against the zone tonight.
Five players scored in double figures for Missouri, which was led by sophomore guard Jabari Brown and junior guard Earnest Ross, who each scored a team-high 15 points. Ross showed marked improvement from his seven-point performance against Ole Miss, as he looked more comfortable coming off the bench Wednesday.
Earnest played great tonight, Haith said. He was very aggressive, all over the court, and thats way we need him to play. Hes an energy guy.
Ross wasnt afraid to throw his body around Wednesday, either, as he took a couple of hard spills on drives to the basket only to rise back up. Ross, a 6-foot-5 swingman, also showed a greater command of the four-spot, a position he has been thrust into since Bowers went suffered an MCL sprain.
He got a lot better at knowing the plays, Haith said of Ross.
But while the Tigers definitely showed improvement on offense without their most efficient scorer, Missouri was actually buoyed all night by its stingy perimeter defense, as the Tigers racked up nine steals and forced Georgia to commit 19 turnovers. Missouri also won the rebounding battle 31-29 and dominated down low, outscoring Georgia 32-12 in points in the paint.
I thought their bigs hurt us on the glass, said Georgia coach Mark Fox, whose team dropped to 6-10 overall and 0-3 in the SEC. We knew rebounding would be an issue.
Senior forward Alex Oriakhi (13 points, eight rebounds), senior guard Keion Bell (14 points) and junior forward Tony Criswell (10 points, six rebounds) also scored in double figures for Missouri, which never trailed and took a 38-30 lead into halftime after leading by as many as 14 in the first half.
Missouri stretched its lead to as many as 12 to open the second half, but Georgia, which was led by senior guard Vincent Williams (23 points) and sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (15 points), cut its deficit back to eight when a basket by Nemanja Djurisic made the score 49-41 with 12 minutes left.
The Tigers, however, promptly pulled away by looking inside on offense, as their bigs combined to score 12 points during a 15-8 run that gave Missouri some much-needed breathing room over the next six minutes. Georgia would get no closer than 14 the rest of the way.
Afterward, Haith made it clear that he was happy with the progress his team has made this year, despite multiple distractions ranging from injuries (to Bowers and Criswell) to suspensions (Michael Dixon Jr, who eventually transferred).
Ive got to applaud our team, Haith said.
Were 13-3 and we had some adjustments (to make) throughout the whole year, but this team is in good shape and has handled everything very well.
Now Haith and his team will turn its attention to Florida, which will play host to Missouri at 1 p.m. Saturday and enters the game with a 12-2 record (2-0 in the SEC).
Ive been in that building its a tough place to play, Haith said. I think theyre the best team in the league, so its (going) to take a yeomans effort to get in there and get a win.