Missouri can throw out the “a different player every night” theory.
It no longer applies.
Guard Stefhon Hannah doesn’t even want to admit it, but this has become his team. In Missouri’s biggest games in the nonconference season, Hannah has recorded career-best performances.
“I just come out to play every game,” Hannah said. “But when it’s a big game, that just makes me want to win even more.”
It was Hannah who scored 21 points against Arkansas, adding six steals in Missouri’s blowout win against the Razorbacks back in late November. It was Hannah again who recorded a career-high 23 points against Illinois, keeping the game competitive up until the final minutes of Missouri’s 73-70 loss in St. Louis.
And Tuesday night against Mississippi State (9-4), Hannah proved he’s the court leader for the Tigers. A junior college transfer from Florida, Hannah topped his 23 points against Illinois, finishing with 27 points (17 in the first half) on 10-of-20 shooting from the field. He added five rebounds, five assists and five steals to help coach Mike Anderson get his 100th career win.
Still, Hannah refused to say he’s the pulse of Missouri’s team.
“I don’t want to be an individual,” Hannah said. “I just want to be a team player.”
After settling for the three-point attempt too often early in the first half, according to his coach, Hannah penetrated the ball into the lane when shots weren’t falling from the perimeter. Hannah consistently used his one-handed floater to shoot over Mississippi State’s big men. One shot nearly hit the top of the backboard before falling through the net.
“I’ve been doing it since I was little,” Hannah said. “I always played with taller guys and older people. I guess that really helped me out a lot.”
In its last game before the Big 12 Conference season begins against Iowa State on Saturday, Missouri (11-2) opened the game on a 13-0 run before Mississippi State took a 10-point lead toward the end of the first half.
At that point, Hannah said his teammates told him to take control of the pace of the game and stop the Bulldogs’ run.
“My teammates told me that (Mississippi State) couldn’t stop me,” Hannah said. “They told me they were open if they needed me, but for me to attack the basket.”
Hannah’s hot-hand led Missouri to a 16-0 run to close out the half, which Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury considered the turning point in the game.
“Those last five minutes is the basketball game,” Stansbury said. “They go on a 16-0 run to end the first half and that was the basketball game.”
Stansbury, who called Hannah the key to Missouri’s basketball team, couldn’t find an answer to stop Missouri’s point guard. He used multiple defenders to guard Hannah, but nothing seemed to work. Most of the shots Hannah created off the dribble. Other times, the Bulldogs simply left him unguarded.
“He was wide open a lot of the time,” Missouri guard Keon Lawrence said. “I don’t know why he was open, but he was wide open a lot of the time.”
Hannah had his share of mistakes though. He committed three turnovers, one by leaving his feet with nowhere to throw the ball. A visibly upset Anderson showed Hannah no special treatment, immediately pulling him out of the lineup two minutes into the second half. Hannah said Anderson told him to control himself on the court, but not in those exact words.
“He plays to win. But sometimes that can get you in trouble,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to get him to understand. You don’t have to do everything. You have to trust your teammates. Sometimes some guys will make mistakes and he’ll try to make up for it.”
At the end of the game, Hannah did just that. On three plays, he stretched a four-point Missouri lead into a 10-point lead with a three-pointer followed by a steal and another three-pointer, virtually sealing the win for the Tigers.