By Cody Mroczka
COLUMBIA – Before knocking down a pair of free throws to tie the game at 68, Jabari Brown let out a huge smile.
Missouri’s (22-10, 9-9 Southeastern Conference) leading scorer known for his stoic facial expressions smiled from ear to ear after drawing a foul on a tough shot that would have tied the second round SEC Tournament game.
Instead the shot rattled out and Brown sunk two of his 14 free throws with the game on the line. After Texas A&M (17-15, 8-10 SEC) missed on the other end, Brown pulled down a defensive rebound that would give the Tigers an opportunity to win in regulation.
Following a timeout, Missouri coach Frank Haith drew up a play for Jordan Clarkson to get the ball to Johnathan Williams near the rim, but the suffocating defense of Texas A&M wouldn’t allow the pass to make it to Williams’ hands. This game had quite the dramatic flair, but Missouri ensured momentum stayed on its side with a strong performance before halftime.
The Tigers got off to a good start offensively in their 91-83 double overtime victory. Senior guard Earnest Ross scored 17 first half points to give Missouri a 34-26 lead at the break. Missouri showed patience and was able to stay in rhythm against one of the SEC’s toughest defenses by constantly getting to the free throw line. Rebounding was also in Missouri’s favor as they outrebounded the Aggies, 48-28.
“Their physicality and their maturity was a big reason why I thought they won the game,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “Missouri made more plays at the end and made more free throws.”
In the second half, Texas A&M jumped all over Missouri and outscored the Tigers by eight. With 3:45 remaining, the Aggies took their first lead since early in the first half. Texas A&M was paced by a monster performance from guard Alex Caruso, who gave the Tigers’ backcourt all the trouble they could handle. Caruso finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, including a huge play that forced the second overtime.
The Tigers would again struggle to manage a last second shot with limited offensive options. Brown had already fouled out for the first time in his collegiate career, confined to the bench with a team-high 26 points. Clarkson entered the second overtime with four fouls.
“It’s kind of like a helpless feeling,” Brown said. “Credit to all the young guys who stepped in and made plays down the stretch.”
Clarkson would foul out only a minute into the second overtime, leaving the ball-handling duties to Wes Clark and seldom-used reserve, Shane Rector.
This win does little to help Missouri’s NCAA Tournament chances, but a victory in the next round would surely bolster its resume. The Tigers face No. 1 seed Florida in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament at 1 pm on Friday.