TAMPA, Fla. — In a sparsely populated hockey arena about 1,100 miles from home, Missouri’s 2021-22 basketball season took place on ice Wednesday.
A loss to Mississippi on the opening night of the Southeastern Conference tournament would have sent the Tigers back north after the season was completed but with an uncertain future.
Instead, Mizzou marches on – at least for another day.
The Tigers broke a halftime tie with a 13-2 showdown to open the second half at Tampa’s Amalie Arena, holding off the Rebels 72-60, completing a rare three-game win of the season. It was the first time the Tigers had defeated the same team three times in the same year since their last trip to the Big 12 a decade ago.
Kobe Brown powered the Tigers with 16 points, 12 coming in the second half. Ronnie DeGray III added 14 points, all in the first half.
While Cuonzo Martin’s bosses looked over his shoulder from the front row of Mizzou’s section — athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois and university system president Mun Choi, who flew commercially from St. Louis on Wednesday morning — the Tigers coach calmed the unrest simmering about the future . For now. After Saturday’s win over Georgia in the regular-season finals, it was the first time the Tigers had won straight games since November and only the second time all season.
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The Tigers (12-20) play No. 5 Louisiana (21-10) in the second round on Thursday. Martin is without a win in five games against LSU in his five years with Mizzou, most recently at Baton Rouge with 20 points two weeks ago.
LSU coach Will Wade sat in the second row of the pitchside press office on Wednesday and got an up-close look at Mizzou coming out as an attacker in the second half. The Tigers attacked the color from the opening possession and scored on four early drives in the color by four different players. Boogie Coleman became the fifth Mizzou player to score in the half, beating the shot clock with a 3-pointer from the wing for a 45-34 lead. Brown stayed in attack while the Tigers maintained their double-digit lead and routinely plowed through Ole Miss’ smaller defenders.
In the closing minutes of the game, with a chance to get within the single digits lead, Ole Miss headed a fast break straight into the most dangerous spot on the floor – Trevon Brazile’s right hand. The freshman hit Jarkel Joiner’s layup on the rim, straight to teammate Amari Davis to keep the ball alive for the Tigers.
The first half belonged to reserve forward Ronnie DeGray III, who arrived in Florida and shot just 27% from 3-point range, but sparked the Tigers early with three straight 3s before the second media timeout. The Tigers needed DeGray more than ever when Brown went on the bench with his second foul at 8:02 at halftime. The second forward shared free throws, hit with a post-up and ended the half with a game-high 14 points.
Brown came back into play with two minutes remaining after Javon Pickett appeared to land awkwardly on his right wrist. The coaches treated the senior guard on the bench for the remainder of the half, but he returned for second-half attack to add another day to his Mizzou career.