Robertson makes key plays at both ends as Mizzou holds off Stephen F. Austin

After an early three-point barrage from Mizzou shooters, the Tigers survived a late scare on Robertson’s decisive steal.

Graduate transfer Kassius Robertson watches his shot go in during the Showdown for Relief against Kansas on Oct. 22

Kassius Robertson didn’t need a redemptive moment, but he took the opportunity for one anyway.

After two uncharacteristic missed free throws failed to pad Missouri’s precarious one-point lead, the graduate transfer guard jumped a Stephen F. Austin pass at the top of the key, dove for the loose ball and held on for dear life as Mizzou called its final timeout in the waning seconds.

Robertson’s clinching steal and game-leading 23 points led Missouri (10-2) to a wild 82-81 victory over the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (10-2) Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena. Senior Jordan Barnett added 22 points and six rebounds for Mizzou, while sophomore Kevon Harris led SFA with 19. The win was the Tigers’ fifth straight and their seventh at home this season.

This one was defined by lights-out shooting early and defensive grit late as the Lumberjacks chipped away at a 13-point second-half deficit. When Mizzou’s red-hot night from the field continued after the break, extending its lead to 60-47, head coach Cuonzo Martin’s team had to know what was coming. SFA had rallied from down 14 less than a week ago to upset another group of SEC Tigers at LSU.

This time, a 12-2 run midway through the second half closed the gap and set the stage for a nail-biting final few minutes. The Lumberjacks finally tied it up with 4:46 to play, but junior Kevin Puryear answered with a tip-in that broke the 70-70 deadlock and put Mizzou ahead for good.

Robertson’s late-game heroics would extend beyond his game-saving steal. Up 74-73, he made space with a shot fake then drained his fifth 3 of the night to make it a two-possession game. After a Jontay Porter block, Robertson followed with a floater on the ensuing trip that sent the half-full arena into a frenzy with two minutes left. He finished the night 7 of 12 from the field and 5 of 9 from beyond the arc.

The Lumberjacks hit their 3s down the stretch too, though — down 81-75 in the last minute, back-to-back triples separated by a Porter free throw narrowed the Tiger lead once more. Meanwhile, after starting the night 22 of 23 from the foul line and 10 for 10 in the second half, Mizzou missed three of four free throws in the final minute to help the comeback cause.

The last two of those misses was Robertson’s, leaving SFA with 12 seconds and a chance to win it after not leading all half, but it couldn’t get a shot off thanks to the guard’s defensive toughness.

Toughness was a battle Mizzou lost for most of the night. Though the team shot 56 percent from the field, it suffered from 21 turnovers against the Lumberjacks’ in-your-face three-two zone. The shooting had to be nothing short of perfect for the Tigers to take a 48-40 lead into halftime; 15 minutes into the game, they were 10 of 11 from the field, 7 of 7 from outside and 6 of 6 at the line.

Stephen F. Austin didn’t change its gameplan in the second half, counting on Mizzou’s absurd shooting numbers to go down. They did, but Missouri had just enough in the tank to fight off a very good mid-major team. Come March, this win will stand out as one of the Tigers’ most impressive in nonconference play.

Mizzou will have one more shot at a signature nonconference victory this Saturday, as the team meets Illinois halfway between the universities in St. Louis for the 37th annual Braggin’ Rights game. It’s a rivalry Mizzou has been on the bad side of four years straight, but if one thing is clear so far this season, it’s that this is not a Missouri team of years past.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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