WVU came in averaging 85 points per game, but was overwhelmed on both ends by Missouri’s superior size and length as the unbeaten Tigers extended their streak to 23 straight – and 78 against nonconference foes – at Mizzou Arena. The Mountaineers shot a season-worst 21.1 percent from three-point range, and never developed an offensive flow in failing to establish any interior game or convert the few open looks from the perimeter. The combination was lethal, as the Tigers jumped to a 9-0 lead and were never truly challenged early save a first-half stretch in which WVU managed a 9-2 spurt to pull within 27-20. That was the high-water mark until a late run for the final margin narrowed a game-high lead of 63-38 with 10 minutes left.
“We have too many guys playing out of character and doing things they can’t do as opposed to doing things they can do,” head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG radio postgame show. “We got out of character.”
Missouri, conversely, got right into it. Noting West Virginia’s inability to challenge inside, head coach Frank Haith used a 3-2 zone anchored by three 6-5 guards. The set further pressured the arc and forced the Mountaineers to fire away from deep outside in an attempt to match the offensive prowess shown by Tigers’ guard Jordan Clarkson, who scored a game-high 25 points. Jabari Brown added 18 – two more than any Mountaineer player – as Missouri hit 52.9 percent from the floor.
“They got so spread because they had no respect that we could throw it to the block and score, or drive it to the basket and score,” Huggins said. “We drive it to the basket and pitch it pretty good. But we don’t finish. We have to be able to throw it to the block and score.”
A Terry Henderson jumper with 12 minutes left slowed the Missouri rout and got West Virginia within a puncher’s chance at 53-38 before Missouri (8-0) answered with the next 10 points to build its largest lead of the game at 63-38 inside the 10-minute mark. WVU got as close as seven afterward off an 11-4 run, but a late Juwan Staten turnover ended any threat of a comeback.
“We don’t have guys who are going to make step back threes, guys who are going to get by guys,” Huggins said. “Six guys can make open shots, step-in shots. (But) instead, we force things. We ran no offense. We tried to be somebody that we are not, and that’s without a question a formula for failure.”
Missouri handcuffed leading Mountaineer scorer Eron Harris, holding the shooter to just eight points –
his first single-digit performance of the season – and a single three-pointer taken. It was a microcosm of the game as a whole, Mizzou utilizing size and recovery speed to limit a team that had shot 46 percent on threes entering to a four of 19 performance that was actually more putrid than the raw numerics indicate. Only Gary Browne and Devin Williams played even solid offensive games, finishing with 14 and 10 points, respectively, and not repeatedly hurting the Mountaineers with turnovers and ill-fated shot attempts.
Staten, who came in with 60 assists against nine turnovers, finished with five of each in his first even ratio of the year. Staten pushed the ball aggressively and did manage some challenges inside off drives. But he also had timely turnovers and misses and, like the rest of the team, was harnessed by the size differential. Remi Dibo had hit better than 48 percent from the perimeter entering, but missed four of five, the lone make a late open three that proved meaningless. West Virginia had more turnovers (10) than assists (8) and was outshot, outrebounded (40-32) and quite simply outplayed for the first 35 of the 40 minutes.
“We alluded to it on the pregame show: We had a horrible practice yesterday. Horrible,” Huggins said. “We weren’t as prepared as we needed to be quite frankly. We probably didn’t get to the last 45 minutes of practice. … You can’t start playing at 7 (p.m.) when the game’s at 6.”
West Virginia (6-3) was as close as seven in latter portions of the first half, but trailed by 12 when Ross sandwiched a three and lay-in around a block of Staten. The Tigers then again used their length on a block of Harris to get a run out dunk for a 43-24 lead with 18:21 to play in the period. The miscues really began piling up when WVU threw the ball away on the ensuing possession to give Missouri another transition lay-in for the 45-24 lead they carried inside the 17-minute mark. The brief charge was part of a larger 18-4 run spanning both halves that effectively put the game out of reach after WVU got within 27-20 with less than five minutes to play in the opening period.
“This team’s going to get better, I promise you that,” Huggins said.
The Tigers led 36-22 at the break. Missouri were ahead 9-0 after the first four minutes before WVU finally broke the scoreless streak via Browne’s free throw. The Mountaineers, cold all game from the floor, didn’t hit a field goal until Henderson knocked down a three to cut the lead to 11-4 with 12:57 left in the half. Missouri, as it did all game, immediately responded with a jumper and a three to boost the edge to a dozen, and the Tigers rode continuous double-digit advantages until the 7:13 mark when Nathan Adrian’s putback pulled WVU within 25-16.
Like all of West Virginia’s shooters, Henderson had a difficult start, missing four of his first five shots from the floor, including a point blank miss of a oop pass from Staten in transition. It frustrated the guard, who decided to assert himself on the next possession after the miss by aggressively driving baseline for a dunk that capped a 9-2 run which got the Mountaineers within 27-20. WVU had multiple chances to get even closer, but struggled mightily hitting from the field with even their best shooters.
The Mountaineers missed 21 of 29 first-half shots, including 10 of 11 three pointers as they settled because of struggles getting to the interior. WVU, which has now lost against every major conference foe it has faced this season, compounded the issue by missing six of 11 free throws, including a pair on the front ends of one-and-one chances.
The Mountaineers (6-3) next play host to No. 19 Gonzaga (7-1) on Tues, Dec. 10 in a 9 p.m. EST tip.