Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri basketball team came up short in its first six attempts to beat a power-conference team this season. Perhaps the Tigers were just waiting for their own power conference.
Missouri held on to a 74-67 overtime win against LSU, a team that received votes in the most recent AP poll, to open its Southeastern Conference season Thursday night at Mizzou Arena.
It was the team’s first defeat of a power conference team under first-year coach Kim Anderson. The team’s last two losses came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Illinois and a missed buzzer beater of their own against Oklahoma State.
LSU hit a do-or-die 3 to force overtime, but Thursday’s final outcome was more favorable for Missouri.
“We had been so close a couple of times that it’s great to see these guys be able to realize the fruits of their labor,” Anderson said. “It was a great game.”
Missouri led by four with just more than two minutes left in regulation and by three with 33 seconds on the clock. But LSU junior Keith Hornsby scored the last of his team-high 17 points on a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining to force overtime. Missouri sophomore Wes Clark got off a potential game-winning jumper in the paint with one second to go, but it clanked out.
“Man, it looked as good as the rest of them,” Clark said.
The rest of them being his 13 points, the majority of which came during a torrid second-half run when he scored eight straight points on two treys and a 2-point jumper.
In overtime, neither team scored for the first 2:14, until Tim Quarterman hit two free throws. Those were the only points LSU would score in the five-minute period, however, and Missouri ended the game on a 9-0 run — seven of which came on free throws.
Anderson said his players proved something to him by not letting disappointment at the end of regulation impact their play in overtime.
“I learned that they can do it,” he said. “I desperately wanted to win it in regulation, just because we were ahead so I knew if they came back and we’d go into overtime, something crazy would’ve happened. So that’s growth (to win in overtime). To me, that’s growth, but you have to be able to do it consistently game in and game out.”
For the second straight game, Missouri received a boost from 6-foot-11 senior Keanau Post, who appeared buried on the bench in recent weeks. Post scored a season-high 12 points and pulled down seven rebounds, providing a key inside presence for Missouri.
“Well, he’s always practiced hard,” Anderson said. ” … The only reason he wasn’t playing was he wasn’t producing (in games). He got an opportunity to produce and he did.”
Post had seven points and 10 rebounds in Missouri’s previous game, a home win against Lipscomb.
Entering Thursday’s game, it looked like the post area might be a weakness for Missouri. LSU brought in 6-foot-10 forward Jarell Martin, the SEC’s leading scorer, and 6-foot-8 Jordan Mickey, who averaged 16.3 points per game. The pair each picked up two early fouls, however, and were held to a combined two points in the first half. Martin eventually fouled out with nine points, and Mickey was also held to nine, though he had 17 rebounds.
“I thought the game got spread a little bit,” Anderson said. “It got to going up and down, and that actually probably played to our advantage from the standpoint that our guys were able to run up and down the floor and it maybe took them away from the basket a little bit.”
Missouri outscored LSU in the paint, 36-24, in large part thanks to Johnathan Williams III. For the eighth consecutive game, Williams totaled at least 15 points and eight rebounds, finishing with 21 and 10. He passed the 15-point threshold on a floater with 33 seconds left in regulation, giving Missouri its temporary three-point edge. Williams fell just short of his career high of 22 points, set Dec. 30 against Oklahoma State.
“Johnathan’s growing every day as a complete basketball player,” Anderson said.
Starting guard Montaque Gill-Caesar sat with back spasms. Anderson said he is doubtful for Saturday’s game at Auburn. Baylor transfer Deuce Bello is still inactive for undisclosed academic reasons.
The win pushes Missouri to 7-7 and 1-0 in conference play. Anderson said the team is more focused on that second part.
“It’s like a do-over,” Anderson said. “Everybody starts 0-0, and here’s your chance now to do something. Here’s your chance to be 1-0. When you’re just starting to build a program, you’re looking for anything you can find.”
Anderson also emphasized the team has been playing better in practice, something it noticeably struggled with earlier in the season.
“We’ve been talking about this for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks: Hey, we need something good to happen,” Anderson said. “Well, something good happened.”