Before Wednesday’s tip-off at Louisiana State’s Maravich Assembly Center, Missouri gamers visited the den on LSU’s campus that’s house to reside mascot Mike the Tiger and traded glances with the beast as he roamed his palatial 15,000-square foot habitat.
A number of hours later, within the penultimate recreation of their common season, those self same gamers stared down one other distinctive sight: a 19-point first-half deficit to lowly LSU, hardly the ferocious beasts of the Southeastern Conference.
How might this occur? Gifted the simplest remaining house stretch of any SEC schedule, the Tigers have been on the verge of their worst loss in an in any other case particular season, the sort that would trigger irreparable harm to their postseason seedings, each within the SEC event and past on the NCAA bracket.
But as they settled into the customer’s locker room at halftime, now down 13, the guests understood they’d been there earlier than — not Baton Rouge, Louisiana — however behind on the scoreboard in a recreation that would capsize their late-season momentum.
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“The game was won at halftime with the look in our guys’ face(s),” Mizzou coach Dennis Gates later mentioned, “(and) the challenges that they set for each other.”
LSU offered sufficient challenges with a sudden lack of ability to overlook 3-pointers, however no matter voodoo Gates cooked up in that locker room labored wonders within the second half as Mizzou overcame that lifeless begin to recuperate for an unbelievable 81-76 comeback victory.
Trying to win for simply the second time for the reason that calendar flipped to 2023, last-place LSU led for greater than 36 minutes. The house Tigers almost set their season-high whole for 3-pointers — within the first half!
But Mizzou (22-8, 10-7 SEC) led for the 97 seconds that mattered most. On the identical evening he made workforce historical past on the defensive finish, D’Moi Hodge drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:37 left, placing Gates’ Tigers forward for the primary time and for good. Once once more, Mizzou proved it might defend its means right into a double-digit deficit — and never the nice sort of protection — then shoot its means out from deep. This was MU’s fourth win this season it trailed by 10 factors or extra, following comeback victories over Wichita State, UCF and Arkansas.
What offers this veteran core of 20-somethings the religion to combat again? For a roster that options eight gamers who’ve logged 2,000 minutes of Division I recreation expertise, no scenario is just too dire to stop believing.
“We (are) in these situations every day in practice,” Hodge mentioned, “and we never get rattled.”
Especially Hodge. He led MU with 23 factors, whereas his 4 steals gave him 77 for the season, breaking MU’s single-season mark. For stretches, DeAndre Gholston carried the Tigers on the offensive finish, supplying 20 much-needed factors as MU overcame an unusually quiet evening for All-SEC ahead Kobe Brown, who scored eight whereas enjoying by way of early fouls. The bench wasn’t deep — the Tigers performed with out Isiaih Mosley for the seventh straight recreation, whereas Tre Gomillion got here out early with an harm — however others got here by way of with pivotal performs within the clutch. Noah Carter added 13 factors and yanked down a team-best seven rebounds. Sean East II didn’t rating till a game-tying baseline jumper with three minutes left, however he led MU with six assists, together with the cross-court discover to Hodge on the go-ahead 3. He additionally sank two free throws with 23 seconds left to ship house the few stragglers left within the PMAC.
With their first win on LSU’s house court docket in seven tries, the Tigers improved to 7-0 this season in video games determined by 5 factors or fewer.
“Credit to Missouri,” LSU coach Matt McMahon mentioned after his workforce dedicated 16 turnovers. “They put a lot of pressure on you defensively. All one through five can beat you off the dribble and get to the rim and make plays at the basket. If you go double, they can all shoot it from 3. Obviously disappointed in the result tonight.”
For some time Wednesday, this was effervescent into the sort of loss Mizzou had averted all season. The Tigers started the week with out a loss to a workforce exterior of Quadrant 1 within the NCAA’s NET rankings, however LSU (13-17, 2-15) got here into the sport ranked No. 155 within the NET — 95 spots decrease than every other workforce to beat Mizzou this yr, making this a Quadrant 3 recreation for Mizzou.
But with the victory, MU stayed alive for a top-four seed and double bye in subsequent week’s SEC event in Nashville. If the Tigers beat Mississippi (11-19, 3-14) on Saturday and both Tennessee or Kentucky, each 11-6 in league play, lose their street video games at Auburn and Arkansas, respectively, Mizzou is assured a top-four seed. If MU wins and each UT and UK lose, MU is the third seed. If Mizzou wins and solely one in all UT or UK win, Mizzou is the fourth seed. If all three groups win, MU is the fifth seed. The lowest MU can fall is the seventh seed. That would require Mizzou to lose Saturday whereas Auburn beats Tennessee, Kentucky beats Arkansas and Vanderbilt beats Mississippi State.
All these eventualities almost went to hell Wednesday when Mizzou opened with one in all its worst halves of the season — or of any latest season. LSU walk-on guard Parker Edwards, getting the beginning on his senior evening, linked on two early 3-pointers, a part of an 8-0 lead for the house Tigers.
MU perked up with a pair Gholston 3-pointers, plus one other from the nook by Aidan Shaw, however Gates’ workforce had no reply on the perimeter for LSU’s shooters. Adam Miller banked in a 3-pointer for a 24-14 lead with 10:27 left, getting the Tigers off to a 6-for-8 begin from deep. After the three, the officers stopped the sport so Gomillion might head to the bench with an harm. He had missed seven video games earlier with a strained groin.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Just shut me down. Let (Gholston) play more minutes,’” Gates mentioned. “It was just a little soreness that he felt. And I told him coming into the game if there was something of such then just hold yourself out. And he agreed with that. So it’s one of those precautionary things, but ultimately, I gotta listen to my player-assistant coach.”
Gomillion didn’t return however was quickly joined on the bench by MU’s Brown, who earned his second foul with 9:07 left, then his third with 4:29 on the clock. Brown tried to rescue Mizzou’s struggling transition protection by drawing a cost in opposition to Miller on a fast-break, however Brown left his toes tucked contained in the restricted space as Miller collided into him.
LSU, taking pictures simply 30.8% from 3-point vary in opposition to SEC foes when the evening started, did what so many unhealthy taking pictures groups have achieved in opposition to Mizzou this season, out of the blue turning into sharpshooters from deep. LSU linked on 11 of 15 from behind the arc within the first half, already one shy of its season-high from 3, with 5 gamers contributing to the 3-point barrage.
Mizzou, in the meantime, solely managed 4 free throw makes an attempt, shot simply 6 of 18 from 3-point vary as Brown entered the locker room with extra fouls (three) than factors (two). Gholston powered MU inside 13 of the lead at halftime with 4 straight factors to finish the half.
But similar to Saturday at Georgia, Mizzou discovered a brand new gear after halftime, reducing LSU’s result in 4 by way of the primary three minutes, sparked by Gholston attacking inside.
“He was big time. That’s what he does,” Gates mentioned. “I truly believe that’s who he is, the aggressive player on the offensive end. … I just thought he was able to get us some easy baskets. His physicality impacted the smaller guards and he posted up a little bit and guys got going. That’s crucial for him because he’s one of our better 1-on-1 players.”
Then Hodge took over. The senior guard racked up the steals and the factors halfway by way of the second half, getting free for 2 straight 3s with the second knotting the rating at 59-59 with 11:25 left. Hodge arrange the game-tying 3 along with his fourth steal of the sport and 77th of the season, breaking Lynn Hardy’s single-season MU document set in 1986-87.
It was a document Hodge had focused since arriving on campus final summer time — and one Gates hopes can vault his veteran guard into SEC defensive participant of the yr honors.
First, although, the Tigers wanted a couple of extra defensive stops to clinch Wednesday’s comeback. Trailing for the primary time all evening, LSU obliged with 4 missed pictures and a turnover and in some way managed to get main scorer Ok.J. Williams (24 factors) solely two pictures over the ultimate seven minutes.
“We were down 36 minutes of that game, and we were able to edge out a victory,” Gates mentioned. “It’s magical. It’s March. It’s madness, all in the same breath. Happy first of the month.”