Missouri got itself into the finals of the Advocare Invitational by fighting off a tough St. John’s team that the Tigers had an answer for every time the Red Storm came within striking distance.
On Sunday, despite leading for more than 19 minutes in the second half against No. 23 West Virginia, Missouri ran out of answers.
The Mountaineers rallied to beat Missouri 83-79, winning the tournament and extending the Tigers’ losing streak against top-25 teams to 19 games.
Missouri was in control for the majority of the game, powered by veterans Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson. The Mountaineers’ veteran duo of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. matched Missouri’s upperclassmen basket-for-basket and keyed a late rally fueled by turnovers that stemmed from West Virginia’s famous full court press.
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“This one hurts,” MU senior forward Jordan Barnett said.
Missouri held its own against West Virginia coach Bob Huggins’ defense early on. The Tigers drew contact against the Mountaineers and got 10 of the team’s first 20 points from the free-throw line. Barnett, Kevin Puryear and Jontay Porter, three of MU’s best free-throw shooters all got points from the charity stripe, which kept the Tigers in the game before Kassius Robertson took over.
Robertson kept pace with Carter throughout the first half, with each hitting three three-pointers in the first 20 minutes. Robertson drilled his first three with 11:04 remaining in the first half, making the score 12-11 in favor of West Virginia. Carter scored West Virginia’s first nine points, all coming from beyond the arc.
With 7:16 remaining in the first half, Porter blocked a shot and ran down the floor to hit a three of his own, giving Missouri a 23-21 lead — its first lead of the day. Barnett and Robinson added threes, giving of their own to give Missouri a 29-24 lead with just over 6 minutes remaining.
Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin stuck with freshman point guard Blake Harris as his starter for the third straight game, but Jordan Geist saw the majority of minutes at the point in the first half. Geist, who has played well lately, kept Missouri’s offense calm in the first half and kept the team from turning the ball over for more than a 5-minute stretch, an impressive feat against a defense like the Mountaineers’.
Geist hit a three with 9 seconds left in the first half to send the Tigers into halftime up 41-26.
In the second half, Missouri poured it on with help from Barnett, who finished with a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds. The St. Louis native hit a three right after scoring off Jeremiah Tilmon’s missed free throw to key a 7-0 Tigers run that extended the lead to 55-41 with 14:38 remaining.
“We tried a lot of stuff,” Huggins said. “We played 1-3-1 (zone) for a little while and it worked for a little bit. They were really working us on ball screens.”
West Virginia chipped away at Missouri’s lead, led by Carter and Miles. Carter finished with a game-high 29 points, and Miles scored 26. After West Virginia shrank Missouri’s lead to single-digits on a three by Miles, Puryear led a 14-3 Missouri run with a pair of threes that got the lead back to 16 points with just under 8 minutes remaining.
“It was pretty unique,” Barnett said of the Mountaineers’ press. “ I thought we handled it extremely well the first 35 minutes of the game, but we had some key turnovers and they just got all the momentum.”
The same turnovers that the Tigers helped prevent in the first half, eventually caught up with Missouri.
Carter scored four points off a pair of steals to cut the lead to five points with 4:11 remaining. Miles scored five straight points of his own, with two coming off a turnover by Geist to make the Missouri lead 73-72 with 2 minutes left. Missouri had nine turnovers in the final 6:15 of the game.
Carter’s three with 38 seconds left gave West Virginia its first lead of the second half.
“They just willed us to win,” Huggins said of his two seniors.
Geist missed a one-and-one with 23 seconds left to seal the Mountaineers’ win. Puryear’s layup with 8 seconds left was Missouri's first basket in nearly 6 minutes.