South Carolina head coach Lamont Paris knew to expect it. He prepared his team for it. He still couldn’t do anything about it.
Missouri, coming off a tough shooting night in a loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, rebounded almost immediately against the Gamecocks on Tuesday. Three of the Tigers’ first four field goal attempts of the night came from behind the 3-point arc. All have fallen. Three minutes and 20 seconds into the first half, Mizzou had already doubled over South Carolina, 14-7.
“That’s probably a bad analogy, but when you fought mike tyson, you know, part of the deal was to resist the first two minutes, honestly,” Paris said of the team’s quick start. “There are stretches, good stretches, bad stretches. And when it comes to good stretching, sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.
The early attack ended up being crucial for the Tigers. The Gamecocks indeed held on for the first two minutes and battled to get past several times, with the lead changing eight times. South Carolina couldn’t do enough to prevail, suffering an 83-74 loss inside Mizzou Arena.
“That’s what February is all about. These are dog days,” MU head coach Denis Gates said. “You can do whatever you can do right, but you always feel like you’re wrong. So I want my guys to keep protecting their spirits because that’s what connects all of us. And I think we did enough to get a win.
Gates said he thought his team did a good job of focusing on the little things. They tied the Gamecocks with 28 rebounds apiece. They scored 18 points from the visitors’ 14 turnovers. They took care of business at the free throw line, shooting 17-21.
But South Carolina (8-16, 1-10 SEC) started shooting, which Gates said caused some frustration. After falling behind 14-7, the Gamecocks led a 13-5 series to take their first lead of the game, 20-19. Neither team led by more than two scores for the next 16 minutes.
Gates normally tells his players not to watch the score during the game. But main leader Nick Honor said in a tight game like Tuesday’s, “it’s definitely a little bit more difficult.”
At halftime, the Tigers held a 42-37 lead. The thing about Mike Tyson, though, is that even if you survive the first two rounds against him, he’s still Mike Tyson – he’s still dangerous enough to knock you out.
Senior striker Kobe Brown had five points on 2-6 on halftime shooting, along with five boards, three assists and a steal. Gates thought he was too passive and told him so.
“He and I shared words, some my mum wouldn’t be proud to hear, but he responded. He responded in a way that I thought one of the top 50 players in the country should respond to, or a potential conference player of the year should answer,” Gates said. “He can never have a bad day. I can never have a bad day. And I thought he started the game on a bad day. And he fixed that…and overcame that frustration.
Brown was faultless in the second half, making all four field goals and four free throws. He scored eight of Mizzou’s first 15 points of the period, pushing the team ahead 57-49. He was punched in the face on a flagrant foul by the SC second-year guard Meechie Johnson, causing Brown’s right eye to swell. Despite that, Brown scored six more points, ending the night with 19.
“I really try to give as much effort as possible, to do what’s good for the team, really,” Brown said.
Missouri took their hits and returned enough to claim the win. That’s all Gates is looking for in the final game of the league.
“Being able to win games and February isn’t – you know, you have to be able to have a detailed level of focus on yourself,” Gates said. “You have to be able to keep doing the little things.”
Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Tigers had brought at least four players off the bench in every game this year. That streak ended against South Carolina after Gates was substituted in just three.
In particular, the high guard Isiah Mosley received a “DNP”. Mosley went four weeks without playing from mid-December to mid-January due to a personal issue, but had made appearances in each of the team’s last five games, starting three.
“Yeah, it was just, you know, Isiaih and I had a chat before the game. And we both thought it was great, you know, to pull this one off,” Gates said.
With Mosley out of rotation and a pair of players ruled out with injury in the senior guard Tre Gomillion (groin) and junior striker Ronnie DeGray III (knee), main point guard Sean East II and junior striker mohamed diarra both saw a bump in their minutes. East took advantage, scoring 15 points, the most he had in SEC play this year.
“I see it from a single perspective: our team, our program, is built in committee. And we have to continue to make sure everyone is ready. And my job is to protect our guys,” Gates said. “Tre Gomillion wants to play, I make a decision. Ronnie DeGray, these guys want to be there. So I have to make the decision. Isiaih wants to be there but I have to make the decision as head coach. And these guys trust me enough to do it.
Mizzou (18-6, 6-5 SEC) ventures onto the road to take on two of his toughest opponents remaining on the schedule, taking on No. 6 Tennessee (19-4, 8-2) on Saturday at 5 p.m. and Auburn (17-7, 7-4) next Tuesday at 6 p.m.
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