GAME NOTES: The shorthanded Missouri Tigers will have their hands full on Sunday, as they take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament at Mizzou Arena.
The Golden Eagles dispatched Toledo, 66-59, in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday. Southern Miss was part of a four-way tie for first place in the Conference USA standings at the conclusion of the regular season, but its NCAA Tournament dream died with a loss to Louisiana Tech in the semifinals of the conference tournament. This is the second year in a row USM has participated in the NIT. On the season, coach Donnie Tyndale's squad has been impressive at both ends of the court as it leads C-USA in field goal percentage (.465), rebounding defense (29.3) and ranks in the top-20 nationally in steals with 8.3 per tilt.
Despite playing its first-round game versus Davidson without suspended guards Wes Clark and Shane Rector, Missouri managed to defeat the Wildcats, 85-77. Coach Frank Haith's squad will receive a lift as Rector is reinstated for Sunday's action, but Clark, who averages 20.4 minutes per game, will be absent once again. The Tigers' win over Davidson marked the 200th career victory for Haith and improved their program record to 4-4 in NIT games. Mizzou continues to lead the SEC in accuracy at the free-throw line, hitting 74.2 percent on the year, and was an improved 75.9 percent during conference play. The Tigers are 100-6 at home since 2008-09.
This bout marks the first meeting in history between these two schools on the hardwood. Whichever side wins will advance to face the winner of the Minnesota/Saint Mary's-CA matchup in the quarterfinals.
The Golden Eagles have received strong play out from senior forward Michael Craig during the postseason. Craig filled up the stat sheet in the win over Toledo as he made 6-of-8 shots from the floor for 16 points, which he accompanied with nine rebounds and four assists. Fellow First-Team All-C-USA selection Neil Watson chipped in 12 points, while Jerrold Brooks and Aaron Brown netted 11 and 10 points, respectively. Watson is scoring 10.5 ppg and is fourth among all Division I players in free-throw percentage (.915). Craig leads USM with 11.2 ppg and 7.5 rpg, while Daveon Boardingham is the second option with 10.5 ppg.
The Tigers trailed Davidson by 13 points in the second half, but managed to escape with the win as they shot 61 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Jabari Brown poured in 30 points to spearhead the charge and in the process surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for his career. The All-SEC junior guard has tallied 20 points or more on 19 occasions this season. The other two starting guards for Mizzou, Earnest Ross and Jordan Clarkson, chipped in 16 and 15 points, respectively. Brown (20.1 ppg) and Clarkson (17.6 ppg) are the fifth-highest scoring tandem in the nation this season.
The loss of Clark may actually be a blessing in disguise as Haith has no choice but to play his high-scoring trio as much as possible. Brown, Ross and Clarkson combined for 111 of the team's 200 minutes and 61 of 85 points versus Davidson. The Tigers may run out of steam, especially against the Golden Eagles, who are very deep and apply full-court pressure quite frequently. Although the Tigers are dominant in Columbia, USM has an excellent chance of escaping with a triumph.
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