BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -– Scoreboards are menacing. For most of Missouri’s matchup against Indiana on Saturday, Assembly Hall’s old school scoreboard loomed over the Missouri basketball team with a taunting tally.
Despite trailing Indiana for all but three minutes, the No. 4 Tigers rallied for a 63-58 win. Missouri dodged an upset and earned its fourth straight 3-0 start.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder said he told his team to remember the anxiety and the triumph of clawing its way back to a victory.
“Feel this,” Snyder said. “This is what it feels like when you lay it all out.”
The Tigers scored the first points but did not lead again until there was 1:20 left.
When senior forward Travon Bryant’s 3-pointer rimmed out, freshman Linas Kleiza was waiting underneath for a putback and a foul. Although Kleiza shot a shaky 2-of-5 from the line, he hit his most crucial free throw and put the Tigers ahead 60-58.
Kleiza’s three-point play punctuated a Missouri 15-2 run.
With 7:15 left, Bracey Wright scored his only points of the second half on a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The shot extended Indiana’s lead to 56-42, but the Hoosiers’ did not make another field goal.
The Hoosiers, who lead 39-26 at halftime, wasted every opportunity to seal their upset bid.
When 6-foot-9 center Arthur Johnson fouled out with 4:23 left, the Tigers’ comeback chances looked bleak.
Indiana’s Sean Kline sank two free throws to put the Hoosiers ahead 58-48.
Kleiza and Bryant responded fiercely.
After Kleiza swiped the ball from Kline, Kline committed his fourth foul and sent Kleiza to the foul line. He made the first and missed the second, but Bryant wrestled down a rebound and kicked the ball back to Kleiza who sank a 3-pointer, putting the Tigers within 58-52.
Two possessions later, Bryant hit another 3-pointer and narrowed Missouri’s deficit to 58-57.
“You can’t ask any more,” MU senior Rickey Paulding said. “I think that’s what we expect when people talk about depth this team has. I think those guys showed tremendous character tonight when AJ wasn’t able to try and step up for us.”
Bryant led the Tigers with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He added two blocks and three steals to his second straight double-double.
Kleiza generated 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Johnson was the only other Tiger in double figures; he had 10 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s good when you have depth,” Snyder said. “We have that depth inside. We have some on the perimeter now.”
Finally with the lead, the Tigers did not relent. They scored 15 straight to end the game.
The Tigers overcame 34.3 percent shooting in the first half, but Snyder said the team’s defensive execution ignited the turnaround.
“Our team had one heartbeat tonight in the second half,” Snyder said. “It was team defense that won the game.”
After watching the Hoosiers blaze from behind the 3-point line, Snyder focused his halftime talk on controlling the perimeter.
Indiana drilled 3-pointer after 3-pointer and held Missouri scoreless for four minutes, crafting a 23-8 lead early in the first half. It was 7-of-13 on 3-pointers in the first half.
The Hoosiers started the game hitting eight of their nine first shots. Their stroke faded later, for the Tigers held Indiana to 5-of-28 shooting in the second half.
Missouri scored on its first four possessions of the second half, but the Tigers struggled to spoil the Hoosiers’ offense.
“They kept shooting the ball, but we made sure that we got up in them a little bit more and made it a little bit harder for them,” guard Jimmy McKinney said.
The Tigers’ relentless control of the boards curbed Indiana’s offense. Missouri outrebounded Indiana 46-28.
“We talked about it at halftime, and it didn’t happen right away, but I felt like over the course of the game, we could wear them down with our toughness inside,” Snyder said.
Controlling Wright was another key to the Tigers’ revival. Paulding’s pressure held the Hoosiers’ scoring-average leader to one second-half field goal.
“I think Rickey got better and tougher and stronger as the game went on,” Snyder said. “He seems to do that.”
The Tigers escaped Bloomington with a win, but Snyder said his team got more out of this trip than another victory. Snyder said the game’s harsh conditions give Missouri confidence before its next road test against No. 24 Gonzaga in Seattle on Saturday.
“You can look at this, you know, we went on a 15-0 run, or you can also say that we were down 15 in the second half,” Snyder said. “Every game that we can come through, win or lose, there’s going to be things you can learn, and I think these guys want to learn.”