It wasn’t the game’s most noticeable play. After all, Missouri had done it 78 times coming into Thursday night’s game.
But it was, however, perhaps the play the Tigers needed the most.
After a Missouri basket, Marshall Brown pressed up on his man and stole the inbounds pass. The Tigers’ first steal of the game, and 79th steal of the season lead to a 3-pointer by guard Stefhon Hannah to tie the game.
Arkansas had breezed through Missouri’s full-court press in the game’s opening minutes, racking up eight points in three minutes and racing out to a five-point lead.
While early in the game, Brown’s steal energized Missouri, partially because of the crowd’s reaction, but partially because of Hannah’s reaction to his own 3-point basket.
Hannah jumped up and down after the ball went through the net. He then turned to his teammates, slapping his hands together in encouragement.
“I’m a leader,” Hannah said. “I feel like I’m a leader on the court.”
The hype entering the game was that Missouri’s schedule — before the big game against Arkansas — was too easy, and that a team from a major conference like Arkansas would provide the first real test for Missouri.
But for the rest of the first half, part of the battle for Arkansas was just keeping from turning the ball over, a battle Missouri’s previous seven opponents have all fought.
Missouri forced 18 Razorback turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes, 14 of those coming off steals. That lead to a 44-28 Missouri lead at the break. Missouri (8-0) held on to win 86-64.
While Hannah wasn’t the Tigers’ leading scorer in the first half — freshman Keon Lawrence had 10 — he was the pulse of the team. He finished the half with eight points, six assists and five steals.
“The first thing I noticed when I recruited Stefhon was I liked his toughness,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “...He’s a leader. I think when you talk about a guy that is tailor-made for the way we play, he’s that guy.”
Hannah passed Lawrence as the leading scorer in the second half, finishing with 21 points, six steals and six assists. “He’s directing the ship,” Lawrence said about Hannah. “And we’re following him.”
Hannah clearly stood out for Missouri.
“Some guys can either shoot real good, or they’re good penetrators or good passers,” Arkansas coach Stan Heath. “He’s got the whole game. He shoots it. He handles it. He drives it on you. He makes passes. That was a great pickup. That kid is going to be very, very successful.”