COLUMBIA — Missouri forward Tony Criswell finished without a field goal during the Tigers’ 69-59 win Saturday against visiting Long Beach State. He may have prevented an upset nonetheless.
By SAM McDOWELL The Kansas City Star
With the Tigers clinging to a two-point lead and five minutes remaining, Criswell out-battled a pair of 49ers on the low block for an offensive rebound. He turned that into a pair of free throws, the first two points in a 12-4 run that 25th-ranked Missouri used to close out its victory in front of 8,679 fans at Mizzou Arena.
It was precisely the type of play Missouri needed to escape without a second blemish in the final nonconference game of its schedule — and the exact play the Tigers couldn’t come up with during a lackluster first-half performance.
“Real big,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “That was important for us to get those huge rebounds from Tony. We need more of that. We’re only going to be as good as our bench. We need some production out of those guys.”
Now would make for especially good timing. Missouri is set to play host to Georgia at 7 p.m. Wednesday to open its second season of Southeastern Conference play.
It will take a two-game winning streak into the conference season — following a loss to Illinois — but Long Beach State didn’t go easy Saturday. Tyler Lamb wouldn’t allow it.
Lamb, the 49ers’ leading scorer, strung together seven straight points as part of a second-half run that trimmed a 13-point Missouri advantage to just two points with 5:55 remaining.
It was enough to make things interesting down the stretch, but not enough to prevent Missouri from extending its nation-best home winning streak to 26 games.
As good as Lamb was — he finished with 17 points on three three-pointers — he couldn’t overshadow Missouri guard Jabari Brown.
Brown scored a game-high 22 points on only 12 shots. He provided the dagger — a three-pointer from the right wing with 2:26 remaining — pushing the Tigers’ lead back to seven points. Earnest Ross added 16 points.
Long Beach State fell to 4-10, though it has played the nation’s second-toughest schedule.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Brown said. “I’m from the West Coast, so I know Long Beach has a good team every year. We weren’t underestimating them at all. We knew we were going to get their best punch.”
They absorbed that in the opening 15 minutes.
Long Beach State built a seven-point lead midway through the first half behind five three-pointers, and it dominated the glass in the process. Long Beach State grabbed nine offensive rebounds before halftime — including seven in the first eight minutes — and turned those into eight second-chance points.
“We started off terribly on the glass,” Missouri forward Ryan Rosburg said. “That was unacceptable.”
It didn’t last.
Rosburg finished with 11 rebounds, and Criswell grabbed all five of his boards after the break. They limited Long Beach State to only 11 rebounds in the second half.
“We did a god job there in the second half,” Haith said. “That’s one of the things I think is a strength of this team is our ability to rebound the ball.”
A much-needed strength without SEC play starting next week.
“I feel like we are in a good position,” Brown said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games. We’ve had some good games like this one right here, and I feel like our nonconference schedule has prepared us.”