Missouri shot 55% from the field, including 52% from 3-PT range, and out-rebounded Vanderbilt 40-18. But it was their defense in the final 15 minutes of the first half that allowed the Tigers to build a big first-half lead.
"We were very active (defensively)," said Missouri Head Coach Frank Haith, speaking if his team's first half defense. "(Vanderbilt's) a difficult team to guard, because they've got great spacing, they run back cuts, (and) they set a lot of screens. I thought our guys were excellent! And that's what got us going was our defense…………………………………… We were moving our feet. We were doing our work early. We walled them up in the post. And we only gave them one shot. We got back to our rebounding ways."
The game began with both teams playing deliberately on offense, but Vanderbilt made fewer early mistakes, and they did a better job of exploiting Missouri's miscues. The Commodores had a 9-6 lead with 15:43 remaining in the first half.
Moments later, Jabari Brown hit a 3-PT shot from the top of the key, then Alex Oriakhi gathered in an Earnest Ross miss for a lay-in to put the Tigers up 15-11 with 11:33 remaining in the first half. Oriakhi was having the better of it on the inside.
The Tigers has started playing better defense, and aided by a pair of Keion Bell steals near mid-court that he quickly converted into points, Missouri had started a run which they continued with Phil Pressey on the bench. Vanderbilt was a little slow getting back on defense, and Coach Stallings had also temporarily switched to a zone defense. Tony Criswell rebounded the basketball and found Brown just past half court for a fast break layup. Then Brown stopped on the break and hit a three. Missouri led 26-13 with 7:36 left in the first half.
The Tigers were playing very good defense, and Oriakhi and Criswell were dominating the paint. Pressey, Ross, and Brown were all making threes, and Missouri continued their run through the rest of the first half. Missouri took a 49-20 lead to the halftime locker room.
As the halftime score suggests, once Missouri got going, they were pretty dominant in the first half. The Tigers had won the first-half battle of the boards by a 24-7 margin. And in the first half, Missouri had outscored Vanderbilt 18-8 in the paint, 14-0 on second chance points, and 13-4 off of turnovers.
For Missouri, Brown had 13 first-half points, and Oriakhi had 11 points and 8 rebounds in the first half.
Missouri had shot 55% from the field, and 53% from 3-PT range in the first half, while holding Vanderbilt to 38% from the field, and 22% from 3-PT range in the first half.
Coach Stalling came out of the locker room with a line-up adjustment. He went with 6'5" 210-pound freshman guard Kevin Bright instead of one of his centers, and Vanderbilt opened the second half on an 8-0 run. Missouri wasn't playing the good defense they had in the first half, and on offense the Tigers either took some quick shots or they turned the ball over.
Coach Stallings' lineup adjustment had Oriakhi matched up against 6'9" 215-pound junior forward Rod Odom, who finished the game with 17 points, as Vanderbilt cut into Missouri's lead. Coach Stallings was trying to pull Oriakhi out away from the basket, and it did prove effective, as Odom sank 3 of 5 three-point attempts. But mostly, the Commodores were playing tougher, and were just more physical and played better than they had in the first half. But the Tigers started to get things going a little, although they never got back to playing as well as they had in the final 15 minutes of the first half. Missouri held a 66-41 lead with 11:39 remaining in the game.
Missouri wasn't playing nearly as well as they had in the first half, especially on defense, as the Tigers repeatedly missed assignments. And on offense, the Tigers were playing too much one-on-one, or one-against-five. Still, the Tigers held a 73-46 lead with 6:53 remaining.
Coach Haith substituted liberally, and in the second half, Vanderbilt outscored Missouri 39-32.
Afterwards, Coach Haith talked about the defensive play of Keion Bell.
"You can see Keion starting to shape into his role," explained Coach Haith. "He's bought into playing defense, and he knows that's what going to help us win basketball games."