Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — When Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton shook hands with Missouri coach Kim Anderson after their teams played Wednesday at Mizzou Arena, Sutton didn’t make any effort to hide his surprise.
“He said, ‘I didn’t think you guys could shoot,’” Anderson said.
Sutton wasn’t the only one with that notion coming into the game. The Tigers had made just 39 percent of their shots in their first two games and only 9-of-40 3-point attempts.
Missouri showed off its shooting skills Wednesday, sinking a dozen 3-pointers, including 8-of-9 in the second half of a 78-64 defeat of Oral Roberts.
Sutton was just as surprised when speaking to the media after the game.
“I’ve been in basketball all my life and 16 years as a head coach, and I’m not sure I’ve seen a shooting performance quite like that,” Sutton said. “Especially in the second half, and that’s coming from a team that has not been known to be a great jump-shooting team.”
It was Sutton’s team that got off to the hot start initally. The Golden Eagles hit their first eight field goals from the field. Senior guard Obi Emegano did most of the damage, racking up 18 points in the first seven minutes of the game.
The Golden Eagles didn’t miss a shot from the floor until 10:40 in the first half, but Emegano racked up two quick fouls and headed to the bench.
Sutton said he has a rule of benching players who commit two fouls in the first half, but he should have made an exception for the hot-handed Emegano.
“I should’ve put him back in the game, the way he was playing,” Sutton said. “He was playing at such a high level.”
The Tigers’ weathered Oral Roberts’ first-half assault. Missouri tied the score at 38 with 12 seconds left in the half when Keith Shamburger found freshman Namon Wright at the baseline and Wright converted with a reverse layup. Oral Roberts responded, however, when Korey Billbury launched a high-arcing shot over multiple defenders at the buzzer to give the Golden Eagles a 40-38 halftime lead.
The second half resulted in the offensive breakthrough the Tigers had been hoping for. The game didn’t have much of a flow thanks to a combined 49 personal fouls — and six lead changes — but Missouri finally made a sustained run to close out the game. The Tigers made their final six shots, four of which were 3s. Oral Roberts missed its last eight field goals, failing to score in the last 5:15 of the game.
“I guess we were just feeling it,” said Johnathan Williams III, who made two 3-pointers. “We were in a rhythm in the second half, and everybody just got going.”
Missouri shot 8-of-9 from behind the arc and 12-of-19 overall in the second half. Six Tigers made 3-point shots, and the Tigers made 51 percent of their shots overall, a season high.
“We’ve all been working on our shot a lot, so it was good to see that we were all hitting,” said Montaque Gill-Caesar, who led Missouri with 19 points. All but two of his points came from either free throws or 3-pointers.
Wes Clark, who finished an assist shy of a double-double, thought Missouri’s big shooting night was just a matter of time.
“I think we’ve always been a good shooting team,” he said. “We’ve just been a little nervous and hadn’t really found the chemistry and the feel for each other, but we’re starting to get the ball in the right spots at the right time and making some open shots.”
Emegano finished with a game-high 30 points for Oral Roberts. The Tigers gave him a little added attention defensively once he returned from the bench, which helped eliminate his ability to score in the post.
“I thought he was going to score like 70,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know how we were going to stop him. Fortunately he got in foul trouble and that slowed him down a little bit.”
Mizzou Arena sported plenty of empty seats. Midway through the first half, the PA announcer requested fans seated in the upper deck to move down to the lower section. The low attendance — 5,563 was announced — was likely a hangover from Missouri’s disappointing loss to Missouri-Kansas City in the season opener.
Anderson said the loss had his young team “freaked out,” and it needed a positive result Wednesday, especially with an upcoming trip to Hawaii to face No. 2 Arizona in the first game of the EA Sports Maui Inivitational on Monday.
“I hoped all day that something good would happen, because this team is young,” Anderson said. “They’re so young. I know you guys get tired of hearing that, but they’re new.”