Whom Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin wanted taking the final shot was no surprise.
Missouri led by three with 7.7 seconds remaining, but the Volunteers would be inbounding from the sideline, in front of the team’s bench. Senior guard Jordan McRae had already scored a game-high 31 points. The Southeastern Conference’s fourth-highest scorer, McRae would be the first option for the inbounding Jeronne Maymon.
Maymon passed to McRae, but the ball never reached its intended destination. Junior guard Jabari Brown worked his way around a Tennessee screen, deflecting the inbounds pass to Johnathan Williams III.
"They (the Tigers) just switched out on the screens,” McRae said. “They did what they were supposed to do, and they got a hand on it at the end."
A pair of Williams' free throws later, Missouri had sealed its second consecutive dramatic victory, prevailing against Tennessee (15-10, 6-6 SEC) 75-70 Saturday afternoon inside Mizzou Arena.
“We knew McRae was going to get the ball at the end, so I was able to switch out, got through it (a screen) and make a play on (the pass),” Brown said.
Just another day, another late-game, potentially season-saving stop on the defensive end from Missouri (18-7, 6-6).
Thursday night against Arkansas, 6-foot-10 sophomore center Ryan Rosburg held his ground in the paint, forcing Rashad Madden to shoot a would-be game-winning floater over him. The ball clanked off the back of the rim, and four Tigers smothered the ensuing loose ball as time expired, preserving their lead through the final horn.
Saturday afternoon, McRae became the second opponent to score 30 or more points against Missouri this season, but much like they had fewer than 48 hours earlier, the Tigers made a defensive stop in the game’s final seconds.
“He’s a good scorer, he’s real lanky and he’s able to get into the lane and stuff like that, so credit him,” Brown said of defending McRae. “Luckily, we were able to get stops at the end.”
Throughout the season, Missouri coach Frank Haith has preached to his team that the majority of its losses ended as one or two-possession games — games that the Tigers had a chance to win. As Haith sees it, his team is simply a recovered loose ball against Illinois here, a last-minute defensive stop against Kentucky there away from not being in such a precarious position in the standings.
After common failures down the stretch earlier in the season, his team has done just enough to win two close games this week.
“You’re going to win tight ballgames if you’re able to do the little things consistently: make free throws, get loose balls, box-out and get stops,” Haith said. “I thought the last two games here, against Arkansas and Tennessee, we had to have great stops to win the game on the defensive end, and I thought we did that tonight, and we did it the other night, too.
“That tells our guys we can do it.”
If Missouri is going to secure a coveted NCAA Tournament at-large bid, the Tigers are likely going to have to do it again during their remaining six regular season games. Next up is Vanderbilt, which comes to Mizzou Arena on Wednesday.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.