Both teams came out guns-a-blazing, but the Missouri Tigers, perhaps for the first time all season long, finally legitimately closed out an opponent.
It took a second-half run, but the Tigers pummeled an already battered Mississippi State team 85-66 at Mizzou arena on Saturday, allowing them to inch closer to a possible March Madness bid. It will take winning the team’s remaining games, including what will essentially be a play-in game against Tennessee next weekend, to make the tournament.
Jabari Brown led the Tigers with 21 points and Missouri got a surprising boost from its inside play, something that it must make more of a habit. Jordan Clarkson tallied 14 points and Keanau Post added 14 off the bench while going 6-6 from the field. Overall, it was a solid bounce-back game for the Tigers.
The Bulldogs, who lost its 11th consecutive game, made them work for it early. They shot with proficiency and began answering every Missouri bucket with one of their own.
Mississippi State went into the game averaging only 4.5 three-pointers per contest, but buried six on the vulnerable Missouri perimeter defense in just the first half alone. They finished with 10.
The Tigers were able to create a little distance shortly before halftime but didn’t breathe easy until a streak of unanswered scoring gave them a 27-point lead with 11:12 left in the game. They would ultimately make it a 28-point margin before the bleeding stopped, and there was no blowing this game for Missouri. They couldn’t.
Mizzou was desperate for something positive, and they got it with the must-win performance against Mississippi State. But it by no means secures anything at this point.
With everything up for grabs and a bunch of teams vying for the same thing, it will take a follow-up statement game in a similar vein against a weak Texas A&M on Wednesday. Then, it must finish with a strong showing at Tennessee next Saturday.
The Volunteers will be playing for a tournament bid as well, and many postulate that the winner will make the bracket. But it also has to do with other variables, including fellow SEC team LSU, and Mizzou’s performance in the SEC tournament.
This is not a time for Mizzou to step off the gas pedal. It’s a time to keep flooring it. A showing like the one against Mississippi State goes a long way toward extending the length of the season—and doing so without the use of the letters N.I.T.
Missouri hosts Texas A&M Wednesday night in their home finale.