Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri men’s basketball team found itself in familiar territory Wednesday, holding a sizable lead on a mid-major opponent but unable to maintain a comfortable cushion.
Fortunately for the Tigers, the final result was also a familiar one.
The Tigers defeated Omaha 85-78 to stay perfect at home and claim their first three-game win streak under second-year coach Kim Anderson.
“We have to do a better job of trying to deliver the knockout punch,” Anderson said. “… But on the other hand, we’re getting great experience handling late-game situations and different combinations. It’s stuff you can’t really choreograph in practice, and we’ve been able to win the games, so I’m pleased from that standpoint.
“I don’t know if a year ago this team wins that game. I thought we had some guys that stepped up, made some free throws, made some plays at the end.”
It was a back-and-forth game early, with the teams trading leads on four consecutive 3-pointers ahead of the under-16 timeout. K.J. Walton erased Omaha’s latest lead of the game with four straight points for Missouri in transition down 14-12.
Missouri was able to build up a 12-point lead in the first half, despite turning the ball over 13 times.
The Tigers knew coming in ball security would be a concern against the Mavericks, who average more than 10 steals a game.
“They get in you. They get after you,” Anderson said. “And that’s probably one of the first teams that’s really, really gotten after us like that. So you’re going to turn it over, but you really shouldn’t turn it over 13 times in the first half.”
The Tigers shut down the Mavericks defensively in the first half.
The Mavericks entered the game averaging 88.5 points a game but were held to just 30 in the first half. They made just a third of their shots from the field before half, while Missouri shot 50 percent. Omaha also began to settle for 3-pointers, which backfired, as the Mavericks hit just 2-of-12 in the first half.
The Tigers came out of the locker room with a seven-point lead and didn’t turn the ball over in the second half until more than nine minutes into the half. They finished with just five total turnovers from halftime on.
“In the first half, I feel like we were careless with the ball,” freshman Kevin Puryear said, “just giving possessions away. We had them on the defensive end, out-rebounded them, and we were really just giving them points because we were careless with the ball. So that’s something that we really need to fix, and in the second half I thought we really did a great job of just staying composed and just really trusting each other.”
Despite the better ball handling, however, the Tigers’ game-high 15-point lead dwindled to five on a 7-0 Omaha run. But the Mavericks had just as much trouble inching back into the game as the Tigers did running away with it.
“It was between eight and 12 (points) forever,” Omaha coach Darrin Hansen said.
The teams were called for a combined 51 fouls, and Missouri hit 24-of-31 free throws in the second half.
Puryear scored 13 of his team-high 18 points after halftime, including seven on free throws.
Anderson’s win was his fourth against the Mavericks. As the coach of Division-II Central Missouri, Anderson went 3-4 against then-Nebraska-Omaha, which moved up to Division I for the 2011-12 season.
“They’re a team that, they battled the whole game,” Anderson said. “I knew they would. I played the guy (seven) times at Central Missouri. I know he’s a good coach. His teams played hard, and they played just like that. I knew they would be relentless.”
Missouri (5-3) looks for its first win away from Mizzou Arena on Sunday, and it won’t come easy. They Tigers play at No. 13 Arizona.
“Well,” Puryear said, “we certainly can’t have 18 turnovers.”
Notes: Wes Clark was injured diving to keep a ball in-bounds in the second half. Anderson said the head wound was stapled, and that Clark is fine. … Missouri’s last three-game win streak came in February 2014 under Frank Haith. The Tigers beat Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in that stretch.