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Missouri men's basketball stops Alabama with defense

Saturday, January 18, 2014 | 6:11 p.m. CST; updated 2:29 p.m. CST, Sunday, January 19, 2014
Led by Jabari Brown's 24 points, the Missouri men's basketball team beat Alabama 68-47 Saturday at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers are now 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play.

COLUMBIA – Six.

That’s how many eyes Missouri coach Frank Haith’s game-plan called for his team to have on Alabama guard Trevor Releford.

“Six eyes, we wanted six eyes on him the whole time,” Haith said, “knowing where he’s at, staying down on shot fakes and using our length (height). And I thought we did a good job of that.”

Haith’s players executed his plan and it worked to near perfection. Missouri limited Releford – Alabama’s leading scorer with 18.9 points per game – to 10 points, tying his season-low Saturday afternoon inside Mizzou Arena en route to a dominant 68-47 victory for the Tigers.

“He’s one of the best players in our league,” Jabari Brown said. “We know he’s capable to go for 20 or 30 (points) every time so we just had to key in on him and know where he was at, at all times. I feel like we did a good job of that all game.”

Releford didn’t score until 4:50 remained in the first half and made just four of 16 shot attempts during the game.

With its leading scorer a non-factor, Alabama’s offense struggled mightily, especially in the second half. The Crimson Tide made just four field goals in the game’s second frame, scoring just 17 points on 17.4 percent shooting. The Crimson Tide finished the game a measly 14-48 from the field for 29.2 percent.

Defensively, Missouri deployed a zone set much of the game, using the height of Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross – all six-foot-five or taller – to contest outside shots and pressure Crimson Tide players in the paint. The 47 points allowed was a season-low for Missouri. Haith said the numbers didn’t lie: this was his team’s best defensive performance of the season.

“We’re getting better and better on the defensive end,” Haith said. “I thought (in terms of) defensive rebounding we still got to continue to grow, but obviously second half I thought we were outstanding.

“If we’re active, if we’re in to it, shrinking the gaps and rotating and having great close-outs it (height) can be a factor. When you’re not as aggressive, when the ball moves you move and you’re not assertive, then you’re not using your length and you’re a non-factor.

“I thought this was the best game we had where guys were doing their work earlier, anticipating and having great close-outs.”

Missouri’s stout defense led to points offensively for the Tigers, who forced the Crimson Tide into 15 turnovers. The offense was made possible by playing smart, according to Haith. His players knew when to be aggressive in transition and when to slow the game down and run his offensive sets.

“We’re a really good transition team and we need to get out and run,” Haith said. “Sometimes we don’t attack as much as we need to, but then again I don’t want to turn the ball over.”

Brown led all scorers with 24 points. He was joined in double figures by Clarkson (16) and Ross (12). Brown and Clarkson have each reached double figures in all 17 games this season, making them the first Tigers to do so since Kareem Rush scored 10 or more points in the first 21 games of the 2000-01 season. Freshman Johnathan Williams III contributed nine points and 14 rebounds.

The win improved Missouri to 14-3 overall for the season and 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play.

Following a disappointing loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday, Brown said he knew the team had to put that loss in the past to prevent another. That’s what they spent the 48 hours between games concentrating on: re-focusing for Alabama.

“You’re not going to win every game,” Brown said. “You’re going to have some tough losses and the good teams are able to bounce back; and we’re trying to go from a good team to a great team”

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.


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