It’s an axiom as old as sport. If finesse fails, use force.
Not that the Missouri men’s basketball team hadn’t been forcing its shots, but on Saturday at Mizzou Arena the Tigers finally began forcing the right ones.
After being content to struggle from the perimeter for most of its season, Missouri began attacking the basket against Montana, and the tactic paid off.
The Tigers defeated the Grizzlies 87-62 in front of a crowd of 8,406. Missouri led the entire game.
The Tigers (5-4) struggled again from the outside early, making three 3-pointers on 11 attempts in the first 10 minutes. Prior to Saturday, Missouri had shot 31 percent from beyond the arc. The Tigers shot 32 percent from long-range against Montana.
“When you’re not shooting well, you need to feel the game,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s at those times when you need to either go inside or get something going to the rim and get fouled. You have to impact the game that way. That’s just learning more and understanding the flow of the game.”
Missouri changed its offensive plan midway through the first half, began cutting toward the basket and started scoring points.
“We had to start attacking in a whole different way,” said senior guard Jason Conley, who had eight points. “We haven’t shot outside as well, so we went inside and opened it up, and then everything finally started clicking.”
The shift to higher percentage shots had a noticeable impact. Missouri shot 51.3 percent for the game. The team had been shooting 38 percent for the season.
“It’s good when you get it down there (under the hoop),” Snyder said. “We had more points in the paint. One reason we had more in the paint was because we took care of the ball. We converted a lot of those points in the paint in half court and transition because we didn’t throw the ball away.”
Missouri had a season-low seven turnovers, after averaging 13.2 in its first eight games.
A big reason for Missouri’s distribution success was freshman point guard Jason Horton. Horton had five assists and no turnovers. He also had eight points on perfect 3-3 shooting.
“Coach Snyder has been wanting me to attack more and be the aggressor,” Horton said. “For me and our team, it’s best when we’re looking to attack more. Sometimes we kind of sit back and kind of be passive, but when we attack it creates open looks for us and our teammates.”
Missouri had a 10-point run to close the first half and continued to slash to the basket, building a 20-point lead in the second half.
The shift inside also woke up sophomore forward Linas Kleiza, who scored 16 of Missouri’s final 23 points in the first half. Kleiza finished with a career-high 26 points.
Missouri’s success on the interior opened up other aspects of the game. Outside shots started to fall, and Montana started getting caught in transition.
“We started out being passive, but when we started attacking it opened things up,” Horton said. “If you get a couple shots going to the basket, the next time coming down you have more confidence in your jumper. I think that did a lot for us today.”
With 12 minutes left, Horton knocked down a 3-pointer. He snatched a Montana turnover on the next possession and threw a fast-break lob pass to a cutting Conley for a highlight reel alley-oop.
The play touched off a Missouri offensive barrage. Kleiza and junior guard Jimmy McKinney hit successive 3-pointers. McKinney stole a loose ball, drove the court for a layup and drew the foul on Montana forward Lamarr Farr for a three-point play.
“We got to take the open looks, but we still got to know when to drive,” McKinney said. “If you don’t take the 3-pointer guys are going to collapse the inside, but when those shots aren’t falling, going inside is the cure.”