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Commentary: Another step on the way to March

January 7th, 2023

At the end of the year, the only thing people are going to remember about it is that Missouri vs Vanderbilt is that Missouri won.

The Tigers didn’t have their best day of the season on Saturday. For much of an 85-79 win over Vanderbilt, they looked quite a bit more like the team that played the second half of a 74-68 loss to Arkansas than the one that had beat Kentucky and Illinois and raced to a 25-8 lead over the Razorbacks. But they won.

Style points don’t exist in college hoops. When your job is to pare 363 teams down to 68, things like “remember that Saturday in January where it looked like they might lose to Vandy” don’t get brought up. Missouri won and nothing else matters. It was a gut-check, but the Tigers displayed the requisite amount of intestinal fortitude.

“It was absent in Fayetteville,” head coach Dennis Gates said. “A one possession game that could have easily gone to overtime, no different than our game previously went. I am happy about how our guys responded in the last three minutes.”

That’s not to say Saturday’s game revealed no warts or accentuated no concerns. Missouri was pounded on the glass, losing the rebounding battle 46-27. That comes on the heels of a 40-23 deficit to Arkansas. The Commodores missed 35 shots and rebounded 15 of the leading to 17 second chance points. Mizzou came into the game ranked 357th in Division One, allowing opponents to rebound 36.7% of their misses. The number on Saturday was 42.9%.

Kobe Brown sat most of the first half with two fouls for the second straight game. The Tigers needed 31 free throws and a generous (a.k.a. blown) non-goaltending call on DeAndre Gholston with the game tied at 71.

“It was a clean block,” Gates deadpanned. “The whistle allows you to know that.”


Sean East handed out seven assists and iced the game with two late free throws (Megan Fox)

The victory wasn’t secured until Sean East made two free throws with a little more than four seconds to play.

“They’ve been in that spot and they didn’t panic,” Gates said.

They’d better be prepared to be in that spot again. This is conference play. As they say, it just means more.

“We’re going to get every team’s best shot,” Noah Carter said.

Missouri won this game two days after Gates sat in his car with Gholston for two-and-a-half hours after the loss to Arkansas, begging him to understand his value to the Tigers. Gholston responded with a team-high 18 points and some of the most impactful plays of the game. The Tigers won with D’Moi Hodge scoring 14 of his 17 points in the first half while battling the flu and then throwing up in the locker room after the game. They won with Carter getting 13 of his 16 after halftime after being held to single-digit scoring in five of the previous six. Gates: “We’ve been waiting on him for a while.”

So pick it apart if you’d like. But the revised goal for this team is clear: The NCAA Tournament. The target is somewhere around 21 wins. If there were nine boxes to check when they woke up this morning, there are now eight. The way they checked it off doesn’t matter now and won’t matter in two months. It is a step closer to the goal. Therefore, it is a success.

The only bigger success is that we’re having this discussion in January. Missouri is coming off a 12-21 season. It has ten new players. The one that was thought to be the best in the preseason is little more than a ceremonial member of the team right now—Isiaih Mosley has been anchored to the bench since playing nine minutes against UCF. He hasn’t scored a point since a Thanksgiving weekend victory over Houston Baptist. The player most seemingly equipped to combat their rebounding woes—6-foot-10 Mohammed Diarra has played 18 minutes this season.

And yet, here is this collection of largely mid-major transfers that can’t rebound and has trouble defending led by a man in his first year as a head coach outside of the Horizon League continuing as one of college basketball’s biggest surprises and counting down victories until it can make Selection Sunday a day of celebratory occasion for just the third time in ten years.

Every win matters. Including this one. The countdown can continue.

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This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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