With coach Frank Haith’s name swirling in reports of alleged NCAA violations all week, Missouri escaped what would have been a bad loss at home against South Carolina Tuesday, pulling away in the final minute to win, 71-65.
Up just one, 66-65, with 0:17 remaining, Earnest Ross drove the lane and kicked it out to transfer Jabari Brown in the left corner, who nailed a three and pushed the Missouri lead to two possessions.
Missouri would seal the game with free throws. Brown finished with 17 points on 5-of-16 shooting and seven rebounds.
The Missouri offense, as it has all season, begins with point guard Phil Pressey. When Pressey is able to get into the lane and collapse the defense, it opens up a world of opportunities for Alex Oriakhi, Jabari Brown, Laurence Bowers (when he’s available), and others.
Tuesday night, Missouri was without both Bowers and guard Keion Bell.
South Carolina kept Pressey out of the lane in the first half Tuesday and even when he was able to kick out to shooters, they couldn’t connect. He had just two assists in the first 20 minutes.
The Tigers shot 1-of-14 from three-point range in the first half, missing Bowers’ occasional touch from the outside due to injury, and still thinking about the absence of suspended guard Michael Dixon.
South Carolina used a zone to disrupt Missouri’s flow and took them out of their comfort zone in the half court.
In the second half, Missouri tried to change the pace. Instead of allowing South Carolina to get settled into their zone defense, the Tigers pushed the pace. Led by Pressey, Missouri ripped off an 18-2 run over 4:58 in the middle of the second half to take the lead by five points, 48-43, with 11:52 to play.
Pressey then got into foul trouble, more or less extinguishing the spark that had ignited the Tigers.
Without much help from beyond the three-point line, big man Alex Oriakhi proved to be indispensable. He powered his way to a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Until Bowers returns for Missouri as another legitimate scoring option on the perimeter, Oriakhi will continue to carry the weight of expectations on the interior. If the Tigers cannot get out in transition like South Carolina kept them from doing in the first half Tuesday, Haith will look to Oriakhi on the interior for production.
A loss to upstart Ole Miss was excusable. Missouri’s loss to Florida likely said more about the Gators than it did about the Tigers. But Tuesday night, Missouri dodged a bad loss at home.