At first glance Missouri’s SEC schedule looked to be tailor-made for a 3-0 start, with a home game against Georgia followed by road tilts at Auburn and Vanderbilt. But after losing to an emotional group of Bulldogs in the league opener and at Vanderbilt on Thursday night, Frank Haith’s team finds itself sitting at 1-2 in SEC play. The difference in Vanderbilt’s 78-75 win on Thursday night was the three-point line, and that’s not referring solely to the number of shots the shorthanded Commodores made from distance either.
Down to a seven-man rotation thanks to injuries and suspensions, Kevin Stallings’ team isn’t blessed with a high number of scoring options. And given their lack of experience in the post, with both Damian Jones and Luke Kornet being freshmen, Vanderbilt has to do much of its scoring from the perimeter.
That’s exactly what happened against Missouri, with the Commodores shooting 12-for-32 from beyond the arc with 54.2% of their shot attempts being three-pointers. Seniors Rod Odom (24 points) and Kyle Fuller (22) combined for ten of the 12 makes, as Vanderbilt did a good job of working the ball around against the Missouri defense to create those looks. 12-for-32 may not look aesthetically pleasing, but it does when you outscore your opponent by 18 points from beyond the arc as Vanderbilt did on Thursday.
But that margin wasn’t the biggest problem for Missouri. The problem: they attempted 23 three-pointers (making six) on a night that saw them outscore Vanderbilt 36-16 in the paint. Remove Jabari Brown’s 4-for-7 night from deep and the other Tigers shot a combined 2-for-16 from three (Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross shot a combined 0-for-11), so why not continue to attack the basket when Vanderbilt lack both interior brawn and depth? Missouri settling for jump shots at times got them in trouble, digging a hole that proved too deep to climb out of in the end.
The Tigers may have entered the game third in the SEC in three-point percentage, making 36.2% of their attempts, but on this night the best course of action would have been to pass up some of those three-point shots for even more attempts in the paint. Also of note were the 12 layups Missouri missed. Make the majority of those and Missouri likely wins the game.
Vanderbilt deserves credit for this victory, and it’s a big one for the Commodores when considering their lack of numbers. But this was a game Missouri couldn’t afford to drop if they’re to be a credible player in the SEC race. To start SEC play 1-2 is a disappointment, and it makes their game against Alabama on Saturday even more important.