University of Missouri

Mizzou defends, then holds off West Virginia 80-71

Updated: 2013-12-16T01:41:09Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

— A phase of dominance on the defensive end and enough missteps at the offensive end to create teaching moments.

Missouri ran the gamut in its 80-71 triumph over West Virginia in a Big 12/SEC Challenge game on Thursday.

The Tigers saw a 25-point second-half lead melt to seven in the final minute.

“For 33 minutes we were terrific defensively,” Missouri coach Frank Haith.

The last few, not so much as the Mountaineers chipped away and moved some of the 7,292 at Mizzou Arena closer to the edge of their seats.

“We don’t give up,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said.

But the Tigers made enough free throws down the stretch to keep this one from becoming a true pressure situation, and, as Haith said, played defense well enough and long enough to build what seemed like a comfortable cushion.

“We did a solid job of communicating and rotating,” Tigers guard Jordan Clarkson said. “We ran the guys off the three-point line. We knew they were a good three-point shooting team.”

Very good, entering the game. West Virginia was leading the Big 12 at a 46.5 percent clip from deep, led by guard Eron Harris, who checked in at 52 percent.

Harris’ only attempt from deep on Thursday was blocked, and the Mountaineers misfired on 14 of their first 15 three-point attempts.

Missouri’s backcourt size was a factor. Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross all stand 6 feet 5 inches.

“We’ve got a lot of long guys,” Clarkson said. “We can disrupt people’s shots. They have to shoot over bigger guys.”

For most of the night, the Tigers were also having their way on the other end, especially Clarkson going to the basket. He finished with 25.

Brown added 18 and Ross 16 as the Tigers improved to 8-0 with No. 18 UCLA visiting on Saturday for an 11:30 a.m. tip.

The finish was a concern.

Clarkson’s jumper extended Missouri’s lead to 65-40 with 8:55 remaining, and the outcome seemed well at hand.

But West Virginia started making some shots, and the Tigers didn’t play with enough discipline in the final few minutes. With a minute remaining in an eight-point game, Ross was called for traveling. A few moments earlier Tony Criswell attempted a tough stick-back.

On both occasions, Haith wanted the ball back out to run clock.

“Those are things we’ll learn from, and get better from,” Haith said. “Part of it was, some of the thing we weren’t doing, but part of it was West Virginia doing a good job.”

Missouri set the early tone, jumping to leads of 11-1 and 18-6. West Virginia missed its first eight field-goal attempts. Again, it was the defense.

“We were getting stops, and scoring in transition,” Haith said. “We stayed in attack mode.”

That explains Missouri flurries at the end of the first half and beginning of the second, involving the three top scorers on every basket.

With 1:22 remaining in the first half, Ross swished a corner three-pointer. Brown then got a run-out layup and Clarkson buried a pair of free throws for a 7-0 run at the end of the half.

The same group kicked-started the second half.

Another Ross triple opened the second half scoring. Johnathan Williams III’s block started a run out that Ross finished. Next came Brown’s block of Harris’ three-point attempt that Clarkson finished with a slam.

The Tigers were rolling, and that would continue, until the final few minutes.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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