With the score tied at 63-63, Missouri Head Coach Frank Haith called a 30-second timeout with 1:25 remaining in the game to substitute Phil Pressey, who had 4 fouls, back into the game for a critical Missouri possession. Pressey drove into the paint and flipped the ball back to Ernest Ross, who caught the ball near the top of the key and sank a 3-PT jump shot to put the Tigers ahead 66-63 with 1:10 remaining.
On the other end, Jabari Brown chased South Carolina’s 5’11” 175-pound junior guard Brenton Williams off the 3-PT line. Williams, who had already made 4 of 6 three-point attempts on the night, drove the lane and picked up a 5th foul on Alex Oriakhi, who fouled out with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Williams, who finished the game with 16 points, sank both free throws, and the Tigers inbounded the basketball with a 66-65 lead, and 0:47 remaining in the game.
With 0:20 remaining, Coach Haith took his final timeout. Coming out of the timeout, South Carolina’s 5’9” 197-pound junior guard/wide receiver Bruce Ellington denied Pressey the basketball, and with the shot clock running down, Ross took the ball and drove toward the basket. The Gamecock’s defense converged on Ross in the paint, and the junior small forward found Brown in the opposite corner for a three. Brown had a rough night shooting the basketball, finishing with 17 points on just 2 of 9 shooting from behind the arc. But this one was all net as Missouri went ahead 69-65 with 0:14 remaining.
In addition to Oriakhi’s double-double, Missouri got another double-double from Ross, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“It wasn’t a pretty basketball game, but I thought our guys really competed,” said Coach Haith, following the game. “I was proud of our guys in terms of our defense, and our late-game execution.”
With Laurence Bowers and Keion Bell both sidelined due to injuries, Coach Haith began the game with a starting lineup of Phil Pressey, Jabari Brown, Alex Oriakhi, Tony Criswell, and Negus Webster-Chan. But, it didn’t take long for Ernest Ross and Ryan Rosburg to come in for Webster-Chan and Oriakhi.
With the game tied at 4-4, Ross failed to get out on 6’5” 235-pound senior forward Lakeem Jackson in the corner, and Jackson hit the uncontested three. On the other end, an early three from Ross clanged off the iron.
Missouri was playing a 2-3 zone defense, and the Tigers were failing to identify and close out on the South Carolina shooters, including Williams, who hit a pair of threes to put the Gamecocks ahead, 17-11 with 11:07 remaining in the first half.
Coming out of the timeout, Missouri went back to man-to-man defense, and went on a 6-0 run to tie the score at 17-17 with 7:36 remaining in the first half.
Later in the half, Ross again failed to cover Williams in the corner, and the South Carolina sharpshooter nailed yet another three, to put the Gamecocks ahead at 25-22. Slow reactions by Missouri to a loose ball under the basket gave the Gamecocks an easy one and South Carolina led 27-22 with 2:55 remaining in the half.
The Tigers, who shot just 20% from the field in the first half, including 1-14 from 3-PT land, committed 10 first-half turnovers, and went to the locker room trailing 27-35. South Carolina was 5-10 from 3-PT range in the first half.
As the second half opened, the Gamecocks pushed their lead out to 41-28, but a nice post-up by Oriakhi, and a fast break basket by Ross on a bounce pass from Pressey, cut South Carolina’s lead to 41-33 with 16:00 remaining.
South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin called a timeout, but as the action resumed, Missouri continued to cut into the Gamecock’s lead, and after Brown converted a fast break layup, the Tigers trailed 37-43 with 14:14 remaining.
The Tigers continued on what turned out to be a 20-2 run. Missouri had turned up their defensive intensity and focus, and it was paying off with increased awareness and alertness on both ends of the floor.
Ellington drove to the basket, and Pressey stepped in front of him to pick up his 4th foul. Missouri led 48-45 with 11:19 remaining. Coming out of the timeout, Pressey was on the bench, and South Carolina took advantage of Webster-Chan at the point. Missouri had lost the spring in their step, and their focus had sagged, as well.
The Gamecocks quickly pulled even at 49-49, where the score remained when a TV timeout was taken with 7:56 remaining.
Coach Haith substituted Pressey back in for offense, and with 3:51 remaining, the Tigers were holding on to a slim 60-58 lead.
The Tigers were impatient on offense during the first 30-plus minutes, and their decision-making left much to be desired on both ends of the floor. But Oriakhi, Ross, and Brown combined to get it going in the second half, and the Tigers played with better intensity and focus on the defensive end, and with better pace on the offensive end. And as Coach Haith pointed out in his postgame, Missouri finished the game well.