Guards Keion Bell and Jabari Brown combined to out-score Mississippi State on their own, as Missouri pounded the Bulldogs 78-36. The Tigers (18-6, 7-4 SEC) reeled off the evening’s first 14 points and scarcely slowed en route to their first victory of any sort away from home.
“It’s great to finally see one of our road games turn into a W,” said Bell, the game scoring leader at 24 points.
Mississippi State (7-16, 2-9) saw its league slide extended to nine-straight defeats, and matched the longest losing streak since 1987. But a more painful piece of history was the 42-point margin, worst since the Hump opened in December 1975.
That stage was set though when the Bulldogs failed to scratch until nearly the whole first quarter was done. Forward Colin Borchert finally put the home team on their own scoreboard at 10:43. It was a three-pointer, too, but only emphasized just how fast and far out of control this one was.
“I mean, it is kind of embarrassing for us to come out and not compete,” center Gavin Ware said. “To work that hard but not show it on the court. We are in kind of a slump.”
The Tigers are on another trajectory, with consecutive and lopsided successes including a 98-79 rout of Ole Miss at home. Staking a 14-0 claim on the road meant getting past the away-game stumbles.
“Obviously it was a great win for us,” said UM Coach Frank Haith. “I thought our guys came out and set the tone on the defensive end. And as we got more and more comfortable you could see us getting in a flow offensively.”
The tone was clear enough, as the Bulldogs missed their first eleven attempts and ended the whole first half having made just four baskets. Meanwhile Missouri shot 15-of-32 in the period, and 6-of-11 in that opening flurry.
“The first half they came out strong and we didn’t compete as well,” guard Trivante Bloodman said. “They were knocking down shots and we weren’t, so they got out to a big lead.”
Coach Rick Ray wasn’t allowing his team the excuse of tight Tiger defense. Because, he said, it really wasn’t. “Missouri is a good team. But defensively they’re near or at the bottom of all (SEC) stats. We thought we could do some things against them. And we just didn’t do those things.”
Such as make shots. Or in Ware’s case even take shots. He managed three attempts all the first half. “I felt like they were kind of setting a trap. They had a play called, I’d try to come down and post high, but they’d front me.” Given Bulldog issues passing or even handling the ball that made getting the ball to the post problematic at best, and the Tigers scored 28 points off State turnovers.
The real turnovers though, to Ray, were missed jumpshots. “They were able to get out in transition because we couldn’t score.” Each first-half miss put Missouri in fast-forward to the other end for a high-percentage take and make, typically set up by playmaking guard Phil Pressey.
“We kept allowing Pressey to get into the lane and he was creating,” said Bloodman. Pressey finished with eight assists on one end and three steals the other, working just 24 minutes. He made his only shot, too. Brown scored 20 for the Tigers with three threefers, while forward Laurence Bowers added 11 points. Center Alex Oriakhi had just two points as well but got to ten rebounds and blocked three State shots.
Ware managed seven second-half points and five boards. “That’s two rams going at each other, and Oriakhi won that battle,” Ray said.
Bloodman managed a season-high 13 points, even hitting a trey but usually going closer. “Usually I don’t attack that much,” he said. But he also was the only Dog to make more than half his shots, 4-of-7. Guard Craig Sword and Fred Thomas were a combined 1-of-17 overall and both 0-of-4 at the arc.
“Missouri did a lot of switching and played soft,” said Ray. “When you play a team like that you have to make shots. Missouri did a good job taking away some opportunities to drive the ball, those lanes weren’t open for Craig and Fred. To their credit taking away driving lanes and making us shoot the basketball.”
What frustrated Ray most was the good looks his guards had at the goal. “Some wide-open shots. And we just didn’t make them. And our ability to make crisp passes took away that scoring opportunity.”
For a second game State played without guard Jalen Steele, suspended prior to Saturday’s road trip indefinitely and for undisclosed reasons. Ray said “No idea yet” as to Steele’s possible return. How much difference the team’s only real veteran might have made tonight was debatable. The display wasn’t.
“To be frank, this is an embarrassing loss, when you go out and are totally inept offensively. You hope guys have some pride in themselves to go out and rectify that.”
Freshman Ware said there was some head-hanging at the big early deficit. “But we’ll come back and go through practice and just make the best of it. Like one of our coaches said, we’ve still got seven games left whether we like it or not.”
The Bulldogs are on the road Saturday for a 4:00 game at LSU.