For those who expected Western Michigan to be an early Christmas present for Missouri’s 24th-ranked basketball team, Tigers coach Frank Haith has a few words for you.
It goes along the lines that Missouri was fortunate to survive.
The Tigers won 66-60 Sunday at Mizzou Arena, but the victory was anything but pretty. In fact, the outcome wasn’t decided until the last minute. Missouri led by five with 24 seconds to play, but Western Michigan caught a break when Missouri guard Jabari Brown missed the front end of a one-and-one.
But the Broncos’ hopes ended when David Brown missed a three-point shot with 7 seconds to play and Missouri’s Brown grabbed the rebound.
“I knew it would be this type of game. I wasn’t surprised,” said Haith, whose team improved to 10-0. “They’re a good, aggressive team, and I knew they could give us trouble.
“In the first half, our execution was poor. We couldn’t hold onto the ball. But we settled down and played better in the second half.”
Missouri appeared confused by Western Michigan’s strategy in the first half. The Broncos packed the paint and cut off the guards’ penetration, forcing Missouri to shoot from the outside.
That didn’t work so well. Missouri had an uncharacteristic nine turnovers in the first half, though the defense held up. The Tigers allowed the Broncos to shoot only 26.5 percent in the first half and rallied late to take a 31-22 lead at half.
But the Broncos weren’t done. They pulled to within 35-33 early in the second half and stayed within striking distance the entire period.
“We left after the Northwestern game (a 51-35 loss on Dec. 7) with a bad taste in our mouth,” said Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins, whose team fell to 5-4. “But the pizza will taste fine tonight.
“We gave a good effort.”
Hawkins credited part of that to a successful game plan.
“We wanted to keep their guards out of the middle one-third of the floor,” he said. “The game came down to two things. We shot the ball poorly in the first half. And in the second half, every time we’d get close, their big-time players would take over.
“You have to hand it to them. They’re a good team.”
Missouri’s guards led the way, as they have all season. Brown had 15 points, while Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross each had 12.
But they got some help. Tony Criswell, a senior forward, came off the bench and scored 10 points.
“I just wanted to come in and add some energy,” Criswell said. “I wanted to play tough and see that they had to fight for everything they got.”
Haith wasn’t looking for excuses after the close call. But he did point out that Tigers were playing for the first time after an eight-day layoff, and that probably had some impact.
“The next game after exams are always tough,” Haith said. “There’s no rhythm to practice. You just have to fit them in.”
Ryan Rosburg, a forward for the Tigers, agreed.
“We came out flat,” he said. “But the important thing is that we won.”