Mizzou’s biggest win of the season gave the Tigers their first win in program history against Kentucky, and put the team on track once again to make the NCAA Tournament.
It’s been a heck of a week for the Tigers. It started with Mizzou’s biggest road win in at least three years when they traveled to Alabama, and it finished with a potentially season-altering victory against a top-25 Kentucky team Saturday.
Here are five thoughts following what could go down as the win that gets the Tigers into the NCAA Tournament…
1) Mizzou is starting to learn how to close out a game. This was a tale of two halves. Mizzou and Kentucky combined to shoot 15-for-53 (28%) from the field in the first half. That poor shooting half led to Kentucky failing to score 20 points in a half for the first time in John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington. That changed in the 2nd half – and quickly. Kentucky scored 14 points in the first 5 minutes, but Mizzou made enough plays to overcome Kentucky’s run. Jeremiah Tilmon played 17 of the 20 minutes in the second half. Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett combined for 26 points in the second half. The Tigers went 16-for-19 from the free throw line in the second half. And Jontay Porter & Tilmon combined for five blocks in the 2nd half. Given how Mizzou failed to close out games against West Virginia, Florida & Arkansas, it was nice to see the Tigers close this one out.
2) That’s as solid a defensive performance as we’ve seen from Missouri in years. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a defensive performance like that out of Mizzou? You have to go all the way back to the Mike Anderson era, right? Let’s put this performance in perspective: Kentucky averaged .845 points per possession. The only defense in the country that allows fewer points per possession on the season is Virginia. For one day, Missouri defense played like the best defense in the country. Kentucky certainly helped those numbers by missing some open shots, but that doesn’t happen on accident.
3) That’s how Mizzou has to win games. Mizzou isn’t going to win many games 85-80. This isn’t the type of team that wants to get into a shootout. The Tigers still finished with 20 turnovers against Kentucky. This is not the most efficient team in the country. Even in a win against Kentucky, there were flaws. But if they buy into Cuonzo Martin’s mindset of playing hard-nosed defense, rebounding and playing like hell, they’ve got a shot of finishing this season strong.
4) Can someone show the 2nd half film to Jordan Barnett? When Barnett is attacking, he’s a different player. He only attacked once in the first half, and it resulted in a wide open mid-range jumper for Tilmon. In the 2nd half, it was like the light flipped on. The result was 12 points, 3 rebounds & a block in the 2nd half. That’s the player he’s capable of being. Barnett’s a very good shooter, but sometimes he settles for his shots. Missouri is at its best when he’s playing confident and aggressive.
5) All of a sudden, Mizzou’s back in the NCAA Tournament picture. I wrote earlier in the week Missouri’s ball handling issues could be the fatal flaw that keeps this team out of the tournament. Since then, the Tigers pulled out two season-altering victories at Alabama, and at home against Kentucky. This was a huge week for Missouri basketball. They’re 5-5 in SEC play with eight games to play. If this team goes at least 5-3 down the stretch, it’s hard to imagine they don’t get into the tournament.