Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri men’s basketball team bounced back from two losses in the CBE Experience with a strong enough first half Tuesday to pick up a win against Arkansas State.
Now the Tigers look to string a whole game of quality basketball together as they host undefeated Northern Illinois today (7 p.m., SECN-Plus).
“I talked to (assistant coach Rob Fulford) just for a minute after the game,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said after Tuesday’s win.
“He mentioned to get ready for another game just like this one. I’m sure there are guys that can shoot the ball and take it to the hole, and I think they have a really good inside guy, big guy.”
Other than that, Anderson didn’t know much then about the Huskies — besides the fact they haven’t lost.
“I think Northern Illinois is like 38-0 or something,” he joked. “Or 6-0. Probably 5- or 6-0.”
The Mid-American Conference team is 7-0 now, following a win Wednesday against Chicago State. Beating a Southeastern Conference team would add a signature win to the Huskies’ resume, as two of their wins have come against non-Division I teams.
Missouri is now 3-3 and undefeated at home. The Tigers hoped their strong second half against Northwestern would carry over to Tuesday’s game, and sure enough, Missouri jumped out to a 19-3 lead.
“I think we responded well,” guard Namon Wright said. “We’re going to try to get every home game win, so we’re really going to try to punch teams in the mouth and just get better.”
But a sluggish second-half allowed Arkansas State to get within four points. Anderson said defensive play was to blame.
“It thought we did a pretty good job in the first half. In the second half, our perimeter defense and our help defense” struggled, Anderson said. “It wasn’t just the guy guarding the ball. It was the whole team. So, but that’s something we can work on.”
The Tigers did have some success defensively, however, by using traps against Arkansas State, resulting in a higher energy level that could make it an appealing style of play for Missouri.
“Well, we don’t necessarily teach turnovers with the trapping,” junior Wes Clark said. “It’s just to speed the defense up, get some rotation and get some movement and use some clock.
“So just that little bit of aggression that we showed picked up the whole defense. It was a good decision by coach, and we’re going to look to get better at it.”
Clark and Wright were two of eight Missouri players with at least eight points Tuesday. Eleven Tigers played, a number Anderson said will have to shrink.
“It’s just been so competitive at every position, but at some point, I’m going to have to” shrink the rotation, Anderson said. “It’s just too hard to play 11 guys. Nine? Yeah. When you get to 10 and 11, it’s a little more difficult, because the guys that need to be playing aren’t playing enough minutes.”
Missouri’s bigs have been in need of development as much as anyone during non-conference play, given the Tigers’ lack of size. Missouri showed progress inside Tuesday, scoring 44 of its 88 points in the paint.
“If we’re going to be a successful team, we’ve got to be able to get some points from the inside,” Anderson said. “We just can’t stand outside and shoot jump shots all night.”