COLUMBIA — Using a smothering second-half defense, Missouri took control Saturday against Alabama shortly after halftime and evened its conference record with a 68-47 victory at Mizzou Arena.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
The Tigers, 14-3 and 2-2 in the SEC, only led 31-30 at halftime but opened the second half with a 10-2 run and never led by fewer than seven points the rest of the way thanks mostly to a defense than permitted only 17 points after the break.
“We’re getting better and better on the defensive end,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Defensive rebounding, we’ve still got to continue to grow. But obviously, the second half I thought we were outstanding.”
The Crimson Tide, 8-9 and 2-2 in the SEC, connected on only four of 23 shots after halftime, including a one-for-nine performance from three-point range.
Missouri, which had its nation-leading 26-game home win streak snapped last week against Georgia, was particularly effective against Alabama senior point guard Trevor Releford, a Bishop Miege graduate who entered play ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring.
Releford finished with 10 points, which matched his season-low, before fouling out in the closing minutes before 11,003 fans, the largest home crowd of the year.
“We wanted to keep six eyes on (Releford),” junior Jabari Brown said. “He’s one of the best players in our league, and we know he’s capable of going for 20 or 30 every time. We just had to key in on him and know where he was at at all times, and I feel like we did a pretty good job of that the whole game.”
Up one at halftime, Brown and fellow junior Jordan Clarkson each scored four points as Missouri pulled away in the opening four minutes before senior Tony Criswell punctuated the run with a powerful dunk.
From there, the Tigers’ defense kept Alabama at bay as the offense kept padding the lead, which grew as large as 22 on a layup by Clarkson in the closing minutes.
“The key was defensive rebounding and obviously we turned them over a little bit,” Haith said. “Jordan has five steals. I think we’re a really good transition team, and we need to get out and run.”
Brown finished with a game- and career-high 24 points and took over the team scoring lead from Clarkson, who finished with 16 points.
“Jabari’s in a nice groove right now, but he works,” Haith said. “Jabari puts in time on his game. He’s relentless in terms of his passion and wanting to be a really good player, a good all-around player. He’s had great growth since he’s been here.”
Senior Earnest Ross added 12 points, including a 10-for-12 performance at the free-throw line, and grabbed seven rebounds, while freshman Johnathan Williams III added nine points and 14 rebounds.
Alabama had four players in double figures led by freshman forward Shannon Hale’s 12 points.
During the first half, and with Clarkson on the bench with two fouls for the final 11:47, Missouri shot 35 percent from the field but made up for that by getting to the free-throw line twice as much as Alabama.
The Tigers made 10 of 16 free throws in taking a one-point halftime lead.
Getting off to a rare fast start, Missouri scored the game’s first seven points before the Crimson Tide rolled in front with a 12-2 spurt.
The lead changed hands five more times before halftime, which arrived with the Tigers ahead 31-30 on the strength of Williams’ 4-foot baby hook in the closing minute.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.