Missouri men's basketball survives South Carolina

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 | 8:27 p.m. CST; updated 12:24 a.m. CST, Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The Missouri basketball team used a 17-2 run in the second half to comeback and beat South Carolina 71-65 Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — At Mizzou Arena, the student section is introduced as the "sixth man" during the lineup calls at the beginning of every game.

Similar to the Missouri men's basketball team in the first half of Tuesday night's 71-65 win over South Carolina, the sixth man was absent for much of the first period — they had nothing to cheer about.

At one point in the first half, injured forward Laurence Bowers, dressed in a blue dress shirt and gold tie, turned to the crowd, tired of how quiet it was, and waved his arms up and down to try to raise the volume.

At halftime, No. 22-ranked Missouri had made only 6-of-30 shots and was 1-for-14 from 3-point range.

With the Tigers behind 35-27 at halftime, Missouri coach Frank Haith was livid. His players said he gave them a fiery speech, questioning and challenging their ability to be aggressive.

"Back in the locker room we were all kind of down on ourselves," Missouri guard Earnest Ross said. "Coach Haith came in and gave us a great speech, and that intensity that he brought to our team not only gave him trust in us, we had to make sure we trusted him."

Haith emerged from the tunnel to start the second half without his suit jacket, and he had even taken off his gold tie.

"I almost took everything off," Haith said jokingly.

Then the Tigers' offense started to click and the Tigers' sixth man got louder.

Down 41-33 with 16:02 to play, Ross forced a turnover from South Carolina guard Eric Smith. Ross scored on that play after point guard Phil Pressey found him for a fast-break layup.

South Carolina called a timeout while Ross ran to halfcourt flexing his arms and screaming, bringing the crowd to its feet.

The sixth man got louder and louder. The play spurred a 17-2 run for Missouri, putting the Tiger's ahead 48-43.

Missouri faced adversity again after Pressey reached four fouls, forcing Haith to shuffle Pressey in and out of the lineup for the last few minutes.

South Carolina fought back, grabbing a 63-61 lead with guard Bruce Ellington's layup with 2:01 remaining. But this time the sixth man, a crowd of 11,830 was pulling for Missouri in full force.

Missouri responded. Pressey found Ross at the top of the arch for a 3-point shot. Ross swung his fists in the air as the shot went through, putting the Tigers up 66-63 with 1:10 to go.

South Carolina did not go away, and two free throws by Brenton William pulled the Gamecocks to within 66-65.

Then as Ross drove with the ball, he found an open Jabari Brown for a 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining, putting Missouri up 69-65. The crowd was silent with anticipation before it burst into cheers after his shot went through.

Ross led Missouri with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Alex Oriakhi, who went 10-for 10 at the free-throw line, had 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Brown scored 17. Pressey finished with six points and seven assists.

Missouri improved to 14-4 overall and 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina fell to 11-7, 1-4 in the SEC.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin, who is in his first year with the Gamecocks after leaving Kansas State, credited the Missouri crowd with part of the win.

"I've been in this building enough to know that regardless of what your lead is, they're always going to make a push," Martin said. "That crowd is incredible. It always is."

Haith agreed.

"Our fans have been tremendous," Haith said. "I thought they were a big part of us winning that ball game … they kind of willed our guys. You could see our guys feeding off the energy of the crowd on the defensive end in particular. That was when they were the loudest."

Missouri will get a chance to play with its sixth man again when they face Vanderbilt at 4 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

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