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January 18, 2014

Rolling the Tide

Missouri still isn't shooting the ball like it has at times in Frank Haith's first two seasons, but on Saturday, it didn't have to. A stellar defensive effort in the second half got the Tigers back on track in a 68-47 win over the Alabama. The Tide made just four shots and scored only 16 points in the final 20 minutes.

"I thought our guys played extremely hard," Haith said. "I thought defensively, we were outstanding.

"We're getting better and better on the defensive end."

That effort moved Mizzou to 14-3 on the season and back to 2-2 in SEC play despite a 43% collective shooting effort that included a 9-for-26 first half performance.

Missouri started the season with ten consecutive wins, but had split its last six games, including league losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt. Through 20 minutes, this one looked like it could be headed down a similar path. The Tigers led just 31-30. But the defense helped spark a 17-4 run that put the 8-9 Crimson Tide in Mizzou's rearview mirror. Missouri hadn't held a double-figure lead in its first three SEC games, but led this one by at least 11 points for the final 13:35.

"Coach just said we played a good half. In terms of effort, we were playing hard," Jabari Brown said. "I feel like our defense turned into a lot of transition opportunities for us and I feel like that was one of the keys."

The defense was highlighted by Missouri's effort on Trevor Releford. Alabama's all-SEC senior point guard--and Kansas City native--scored just 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting. He had 26 in an 84-68 Alabama loss to the Tigers a year ago.

"We wanted to keep six eyes on him," Brown said. "He's one of the best players in our league and we know he's capable of going for 20 or 30 every time. We just had to key on him and know where he is at all times. I felt like we did a good job of that."

"We understand how good a player he is," Haith said. "I thought our guys did a really good job on him."

Turning Point: Clarkson, who sat the final eight minutes of the first half with two fouls, scored the first two baskets of the second half. That sparked a 10-2 Tiger run out of the locker room, extending the lead to 41-32. All told, Missouri scored 17 of the first 21 points in the second half, holding the Tide to four over the first nine minutes after the break.

"Coach ran some plays coming off the ball screens, just doing what I usually do and just finishing at the basket," Clarkson said. "I just stayed aggressive."

Play of the Game: With the Tigers up nine and Releford having just picked up his third foul, Jabari Brown started a drive from the right wing, weaved through most of the Crimson Tide defense and tossed a reverse layup in off the glass to give Mizzou its first double-digit lead in SEC play.

Player of the Game: Jabari Brown has been the only constant for the Tigers since they began a slide with a loss to Illinois four days before Christmas. Brown scored 12 first half points and 24 for the game. Honorable mention nod goes to Johnathan Williams III, who posted nine points and 14 rebounds.

Reason for Hope: Alabama is fairly representative of Missouri's schedule the rest of the way. The SEC has a whole bunch of average and below average basketball teams. If Missouri can get some confidence and string together a few good games, it can still win a lot in this league.

Reason for Concern: Alabama isn't a good team. Missouri has played four league games against four teams anticipated to be in the bottom half of the league standings...and lost two. There isn't a lot of margin for error. Missouri won a must-win game...but will face some more.

Up Next: The Tigers face LSU at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Baton Rouge. LSU is 10-5, 1-2 in SEC play and hosts Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. tonight on ESPNU.

Quotable: "We've been around for a few years so we know it's the grind. You're not gonna win every game, you're gonna have some tough losses and, you know, good teams are able to bounce back. We're trying to grow from a good team to a great team." --Brown on bouncing back from the loss at Vanderbilt

"Jabari's in a nice groove right now. He works. Jabari puts in time on his game and he's relentless in terms of his passion and wanting to be a really good all-around player. He's had great growth since he's been here and I'm really proud of Jabari."

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