Carroll leads Tigers to comeback victory

Sunday, November 23, 2008 | 2:35 p.m. CST; updated 10:18 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Missouri forward DeMarre Carroll dribbles past USC defender Kasey Cunningham in the Tigers' victory Sunday at the Puerto Rico Tip-off Tournament.

DeMarre Carroll caught the ball wide open on the left wing with Missouri trailing USC by five points early in the second half.

Rather than taking the open mid-range jump shot, Carroll dribbled back behind the arc and fired a three-pointer that nestled into the basket. It was just that type of day for Carroll.

The senior forward scored a career-high 29 points, and the Tigers men's basketball team overcame an 11-point deficit early in the second half to beat No. 19 USC 83-72 in the fourth-place game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Sunday in San Juan.

Carroll made three three-pointers in the second half, matching his total from all of last season. He also pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds and turned the ball over just once in 36 minutes of action.

"DeMarre, he played awesome today," junior guard J.T. Tiller said by phone. "He stepped up as the leader of this team and put us on his back and kept us in the game."

Carroll averaged 20.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games in Puerto Rico.

Missouri's newcomers off the bench struggled in their first taste of high-intensity basketball in the first round of the tournament against Xavier, but the bench stepped up against USC, pitching in 27 points.

"It was great to see (the bench) get involved in the play and play quality minutes and do some very positive things," assistant coach Melvin Watkins said in a radio interview.

In  the first half, USC spread out its offense, which prevented Missouri from trapping and forcing turnovers. But Missouri's press broke through in the second half, forcing USC to turn the ball over 14 times, compared with just five in the first half.

"Particularly the way we play at our style, we talk about wear and tear for 40 minutes," Watkins said. "The style that we play we're never out of a game if we continue to play with the same purpose."

Another key for the Tigers was racking up fouls against USC junior forward Taj Gibson. Gibson came into the game leading the Trojans with 18.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, but he was limited to 19 minutes because of foul trouble.

Carroll and fellow senior forward Leo Lyons took the ball right at Gibson, drawing fouls and forcing him to the bench for long stretches. Gibson picked up his fourth foul with over 14 minutes left in the second half.

The Tigers had no problem driving to the basketball during their second-half comeback with Gibson on the bench and reserve forward Kasey Cunningham leaving the game with an ankle injury.

Tiller played well again on Sunday for the Tigers. He knocked down all three of his three-point attempts and finished with 14 points, three assists and three steals. Tiller said the tournament has given him added confidence in his offensive skills.

With the win, the Tigers come back from Puerto Rico with a 2-1 record in the tournament, and a win over a ranked opponent in USC that could help Missouri qualify for a more important tournament in March.

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