As Missouri and Southwest Missouri State played a back-and-forth game during the first half Wednesday night at Hearnes Center, it became apparent that the game would be settled by a test of character.
In the end, SMS simply had more poise and executed better in the second half, leading to a 79-70 victory and handing Missouri its first home loss of the season.
In the first half, Evan Unrau and Stretch James carried the offensive load for Missouri, combining to score 31 of Missouri’s 38 points as the Tigers trailed 42-38 at halftime.
SMS used a match-up zone in the second half in an effort to keep the ball out of both Unrau and James’ hands, which proved effective as the Tigers managed only six points in the first 7 minutes of the second half.
James, who scored 13 first-half points, managed only eight points in the second on 2-10 shooting. Unrau, who finished with a game-high 28 points, was held to 10 points in the second half while facing increased pressure and a constant double-team when she touched the ball.
“(At halftime) I just reminded them that we needed to really try to keep the ball out of (Unrau’s) hands,” SMS coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. “And when she did catch it, we needed to put immense pressure on her because she is just such a great player.”
As Missouri’s primary scorers struggled in the second half, the Lady Bears seemed to find an open player to knock down a shot whenever Missouri seemed ready to mount a comeback.
With 9:18 remaining and the Lady Bears clinging to a 56-54 lead, SMS’s Meg Tierney missed her second free throw, but teammate Jen Lingor rebounded the ball and found Kari Koch wide open for a 3-point shot, which Koch made to extend what would eventually be a 13-2 SMS run.
Koch returned the favor with 4:02 remaining when she found Lingor open for a 3-pointer that ended an 8-2 Missouri run and gave the Lady Bears a comfortable 71-62 lead.
Koch finished with 23 points, including 16 in the second half. Lingor had 16 points and made 4-5 shots from beyond the 3-point line. After the game, Abrahamson-Henderson commented on her team’s ability to make key shots at key moments.
“It’s poise and the poise is there,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “They are really starting to realize that we have scorers all over the floor so anybody can do it and they are really doing a good job of getting the one that’s hot open for shots.”
At the same time, SMS’ pressure defense disrupted Missouri’s offense in the second half and forced the Tigers to take several bad shots, including a 3-pointer by Tracy Lozier that didn’t hit the rim with 2:02 left and Missouri trailing by eight.
“A lot of the night we were passing up a good shot to force a second one,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “That’s a little bit of composure on our part. As old as we are, we should be a little more poised than that and we’ve got to be tougher.”
SMS made 47.4 percent of its shots while Missouri shot 38.1 percent and was 11-of-32 from the field in the second half. Unrau said SMS’s defense and Missouri’s poor movement on offense caused the Tigers’ offensive problems.
“There weren’t very many looks,” Unrau said. “I think we weren’t getting very good motion and we were just kind of standing with our mouths open.
“I just think they came out really strong and we didn’t.”