Tigers top Tide behind lockdown defense, second half burst

Missouri now awaits its seeding in next week’s SEC tournament.
Reed Nikko battles against Tide forward Galin Smith during senior night at Mizzou Arena. | Photo courtesy of Twitter via @MizzouHoops

The first half: ugly. The second: clinical.

Two polar opposite performances within a single game were enough to see Missouri men’s basketball (15-16, 7-11 SEC) soundly defeat Alabama (16-15, 8-10 SEC) in the final regular season game of the year by a 69-50 scoreline.

On a day that saw more turnovers than made baskets, a late burst from the Tigers was key.

“I like to think we defended well,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I think we should defend as a team [like this] consistently.”

As a result of extra defensive efforts, neither offense had a productive first half. Missouri and Alabama combined to shoot 14 for 48 from the field while turning the ball over 24 times. Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr. was the only player on either team to score more than four points.

The Tigers closed out the first half on an especially stretch of cold shooting, not making a field goal in the final 4:19 and only two in the last 10 minutes. Nonetheless, they led 21-20 at the break.

“It’s tough,” redshirt junior guard Dru Smith said of playing in a low-scoring situation. “At that point, you gotta lock in defensively. You’ve got to understand that stops are even more important.”

A quick run out of halftime gave Alabama a brief lead, but the Tigers kept things close. Redshirt junior forward Mitchell Smith made Missouri’s first 3-pointer of the day on the team’s 13th attempt, more than five minutes into the second half.

Later in the period, the Tigers’ offense kicked in. Dru Smith, Javon Pickett and Xavier Pinson pieced together a 10-0 run to gain seven points of separation.

“We got out in transition, we got some easy baskets,” Dru Smith said. “I think that got us rolling and got our energy up.”

As the Crimson Tide continued to struggle offensively, Missouri was keyed in. Three consecutive made 3-pointers near the end of the game from Mark Smith proved to be icing on the cake. Smith, who missed a portion of the season with a hamstring injury, was visibly excited.

“When he’s catching and shooting like that, he’s an elite shooter,” Martin said.

Though Pinson played 29 minutes, he came off the bench. Torrence Watson started in his place but was only on the floor for six minutes. The decision to start Watson over Pinson was a coach’s decision, a team spokesperson said.

Missouri awaits results from other SEC games to know its final position in conference standings. The SEC tournament begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee.

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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