Walking through the postgame handshake line, Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton stopped first-year Missouri coach Kim Anderson and said, “I didn’t think you guys could shoot.”
Until Wednesday, Sutton’s assumption was right.
The Tigers hadn’t shot well during the season’s first two games, going nine of 40 on three-pointers — a meager 22.5 percent — collectively against UMKC and Valparaiso.
Unfortunately, for Sutton, those struggles came to an abrupt end during the second half of a 78-64 win Wednesday at Mizzou Arena.
Missouri, 2-1, connected on eight of nine three-pointers after halftime and 12 of 21 for the game and now leaves for the Maui Classic — where a first-round meeting with No. 2 Arizona awaits Monday — riding a wave of confidence.
“This team needed something good to happen like that,” said Anderson, who admitted that a young Tigers squad had been “freaked out” by Friday’s loss to UMKC.
Sutton, whose defensive game plan was to clog the paint and dare the Tigers to win from long range, said he’d never seen anything like MU’s second-half shooting display.
Beginning with a go-ahead three by freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar with 12:40 remaining in the game, the Tigers scored 15 straight points on three-pointers and 21 of its next 24 points from long distance to the delight of a feisty midweek crowd of 5,563.
Asked if the three-point shooting was contagious, sophomore Johnathan Williams III beamed and said, “I guess so. We were just feeling it. We were in a rhythm in the second half and just got going.”
By the time the onslaught was finished, Missouri had turned a 50-49 deficit into a 73-63 lead with 2:44 remaining.
“It was crazy for all of us to see,” said Gill-Caesar, who finished with a team-high 19 points and drilled four threes.
During the game-deciding run, Williams led the way with two threes, while sophomore Wes Clark, senior Keith Shamburger, junior Deuce Bello and freshman Tramaine Isabell also followed Gill-Caesar’s lead from long range.
Missouri finished with 16 assists and nine turnovers, its first game this season with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio.
Clark was particularly effective. He scored 14 points, including three three-pointers, but it was a career-high nine assists that really stood out.
Williams chipped in 10 points for the second straight game, while junior Ryan Rosburg added six points and a team-high six rebounds and Bello chipped in seven points off the bench.
“I think we’ve always been a good shooting team, but we’ve been a little nervous and hadn’t really found the chemistry and a feel for each other,” Clark said. “But we started getting it going in the right spots at the right time and knocking down some open shots.”
Most nights, Missouri is banking on its defense this season. The Tigers played well defensively the first two games, but that was not the case against the Eagles, 1-1, who shot 65 percent in the first half.
Missouri stayed within 40-38 at halftime by limiting its turnovers (three).
It also helped that Oral Roberts junior Obi Emegano went to the bench because of foul trouble.
Emegano started the game five of five from the field, including two three-pointers, and also went six of six at the free-throw line, scoring 18 points in 7 minutes before sitting with two fouls.
“The second half we played great defense,” Anderson said. “We guarded, we had help and Wes did a great job on Emegano.”
Anderson also praised the job Bello did guarding Emegano, who finished with 30 points in 27 minutes, in the second half.
Oral Roberts, which beat former Missouri coach Frank Haith’s Tulsa team Saturday in its season-opener, only shot 20.8 percent — five of 24 — in the second half and missed all nine of its second-half three-point tries.