Missouri men’s basketball has struggled tremendously on the road this season. The Tigers were 0-4 on the road heading into Tuesday’s game at Mississippi, and had lost three in a row by an average of 32.3 points.
But Mizzou reversed its road woes in its fifth try, defeating the Rebels 78-53 at SBJ Pavilion in Oxford, Mississippi.
The 25-point win marks the Tigers’ largest margin of victory in a road SEC game since March, 2019.
“It feels real good,” said guard Amari Davis, who scored a season-high 23 points. “We all happy we finally got a road win. We stuck together through the up and downs through the season.”
Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin’s team (8-9, 2-3 SEC) played stingy defense and took smart shots instead of settling for three-pointers. It paid off for a much-needed win against an injury-laden Mississippi team (9-8, 1-4 SEC).
The Tigers made 32 of 51 (62.7%) shots from the floor and only attempted seven three-pointers, making four of those.
“It’s not a case of me saying don’t shoot the three, but just be assertive, be aggressive, put pressure on the defense, when the three-point shot presents itself, be ready to take the shot,” Martin said. “If you can drive the ball, you can play in spacing, you have angle to score, get to the rim, put pressure on the defense.
“But also it helps us with our defense, with our focus, because the three-point shot for us as we were growing into whatever team we were trying to grow into, I thought it was an easy shot.”
Davis had his best performance in a Mizzou uniform, scoring his 23 points on perfect 10-for-10 shooting to lead the way. Missouri forward Kobe Brown added 15 points and guard Javon Pickett chipped in 11.
Much of the first half was a back-and-forth affair. But it was without a doubt the Tigers’ best start in a road game this season. For once, they did not fall into a sizable deficit early.
Pickett scored six of Missouri’s first 11 points. The senior guard was aggressive driving and playing downhill early instead of settling for jump shots, which has been a big emphasis for the team this season.
Though Mizzou improved its shot selection, turnovers were again an issue early. The Tigers, who entered the game averaging 14.6 turnovers per game, had six in less than eight minutes.
But once they started to take care of the ball, the Tigers were able to establish a substantial lead — something they haven’t been able to do on the road all year. They went on a 12-2 run across the final five and a half minutes of the half, forcing Mississippi coach Kermit Davis to burn all of his timeouts in the process.
Davis scored eight of Mizzou’s points on that run, and his team had a 38-23 lead at halftime.
“It was being aggressive in the ball screens, attacking the bigs, making them make a choice whether to stop the ball or get back,” Davis said. “And they didn’t stop the ball, so that was my chance to shoot my mid-range shot. And I was making it tonight.”
The Tigers shot 55.6% from the field in the opening frame. The big difference: They only took three shots from beyond the arc, making two of those. They also held the Rebels to 25.8% shooting from the field, including just one of their last 13 attempts.
Last time out, against Texas A&M, Missouri also led by double digits at the break, but couldn’t get it done in the second half. Not this time, though.
Each time Ole Miss tried to chip away in the second half, Missouri had a response, refusing to let up en route to its first road win of the season.
“Great for the team that we put together for 40 minutes today,” Jarron “Boogie” Coleman said. “There was a spurt probably two or three minutes towards late in the second half where we kind of started letting off the gas and then we picked it back up and put it away.
“But it’s just great building for us. And knowing that we let one get away last week, it was good to come back and get this one on the road.”
Here are some takeaways from the game:
Missouri had the clear-cut advantage on the boards and in the paint against Mississippi.
The Tigers outscored Ole Miss 38-22 in the paint. They also had a 40-26 edge in rebounding.
Coleman led Mizzou with a season-high 13 rebounds (and had seven assists). Brown pulled down seven rebounds.
Mizzou also played with great toughness on defense, holding Mississippi to 34.4% shooting (21-61) from the floor and 27.3% (6 of 22) from deep.
“The better we become as a defense, the better we’ll become as a team,” Martin said. “This is probably my first time in coaching where I’ve had a team that really didn’t have a defensive DNA — because there’s so many new guys, so understanding we have to do this in order for us to be successful. We’ve taken some painful lumps to understand and hopefully those tough blowout 20-30 point games are long gone.”
Bring on the zone defense
Many teams in college basketball struggle against zone defenses. But it seems to be the complete opposite for Missouri.
The Tigers entered Tuesday night’s game averaging 1.157 points per possession against zone defenses, compared to 0.772 points per possession against man-to-man defense, according to Synergy.
Playing against the zone was a huge part of why Mizzou was able to upset then-No. 15 Alabama, 92-86, on Jan. 8
Yet, for some reason, Ole Miss decided to play zone defense for the majority of the game on Tuesday. Whatever looks the Rebels tried, whether it was 2-3 zone, 1-3-1 trap, or otherwise, the Tigers took advantage.
“I think we’re a good team sharing the ball when they just in the zone because they just sticking around trying to disrupt us, but we poised with the ball,” Coleman said. “It also helps having a good passing big like Kobe, who can get in the middle ... and distribute, and Ronnie (DeGray III) as well. So our personnel matches up with (the zone) good.”
The freshman is feeling it
Since making his delayed debut in a Missouri uniform on Dec. 7, freshman forward Trevon Brazile has continued to impress with his length and athleticism.
Brazile opened Tuesday night’s game with a block and then scored the Tigers’ first points of the night with a three-pointer from the corner.
With just under 11 minutes left in the first half Brazile sunk a smooth mid-range jumper, then used his length to rise up and disrupt forward Sammy Hunter’s shot on the other end of the floor.
Later in the half, Brazile used a hard dribble to go up strong for a layup that gave Missouri a 30-21 lead. He then made a big play on the other end, blocking a shot to start the fastbreak, which ended with a slam dunk from Davis.
“He’s amazing for our team,” Coleman said. “He’s got something you can’t teach, something you can’t learn — he’s a special talent.
Brazile had seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in the first half. Though he didn’t score in the second half, had four uncharacteristic turnovers and only played 16 minutes, he finished with two blocks and continued to make eye-popping plays. He’s swatted the ball away multiple times in eight consecutive games and is now up to 24 blocks on the season in just nine games.
“We just want him to get as good as he can, because the better he gets for the team, the better we’ll get,” Coleman said. “And he knows that, and he knows we all believe in him and his ability. He’s got a high ceiling, he’s nowhere near done.”