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Gordo ranks area hoops: Mizzou enjoys offensive breakthrough

Gordo ranks area hoops: Mizzou enjoys offensive breakthrough

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Northern Illinois Missouri Basketball

Missouri's DaJuan Gordon, right, pulls down a rebound in front of Northern Illinois's Chinedu Kingsley Okanu, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

The Missouri Tigers snapped out of their offensive stupor Sunday and avoided second-tier placement in our weekly regional rankings.

Hey, they can score! After totaling just 18 points during an excruciating first half against SMU – with three of those points coming on a random Yaya Keita swish from three-point range -- they scored 44 in the second half and 18 (!) in overtime.

That allowed the Tigers to earn a quality 80-75 neutral site victory over SMU at the Jacksonville Classic. That was much more impressive than their 54-37 rock fight with Northern Illinois earlier in the week.

So what happened? Well, Kobe Brown is a hero. He has to play all five positions on this oddly constructed team and he scored his 24 points just about every way possible.

Sometimes Brown has to play point guard. Sometimes he must play center. Sometimes he attacks off the wing and sometimes he gets on the block as a power forward. He moves from spot to spot while plugging this lineup hole and that one.

DuJuan Gordon came to life (14 points, eight rebounds) and made a difference at both ends. He hit a three-pointer to loosen things up, he was finally able to finish at the rim, and he got his feet moving on defense.

Ronnie DeGray III did a little of this and little of that with his busy (18 points, six rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals) but understated performance.

Despite struggling mightily (3-for-13) from the field, Amari Davis closed out the game with clutch (7-for-7) free-throw shooting.

While Missouri still does not look like a postseason team, the Tigers gained a gigantic boost from their comeback victory. If they can get more organized on offense, they could become a difficult opponent for the power teams remaining on their non-conference schedule and their SEC rivals.

Here is how the region’s teams stack up:

ILLINOIS (2-1): Kofi Cockburn returns after sitting out the first three games with an NCAA suspension. With the big man back in the starting five, the Illini had a week to get ready for 4-0 Cincinnati in their first game in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. Their stretch of four games in eight days that should move them much closer to midseason form.

SLU (4-1):  The Billikens shook off a 90-74 loss at No. 11 Memphis to step on Mercer at home. Defensive specialist Fred Thatch Jr. came off the bench with his career-best effort (20 points, eight rebounds, three steals). Terrence Hargrove Jr. (15 points, 11 rebounds) also excelled in the victory. By handling their easier opponents easily thus far this season, the Billikens have allowed coach Travis Ford to dip deeper into his bench and extend some developmental time to players outside of his preferred eight-man rotation.

MISSOURI (3-1): One first-half offensive sequence against SMU Sunday summed up Missouri’s offensive futility through the first 3 ½ games of this season. First Javon Pickett earned a clean point-bank look with a pump fake . . . and missed the one-footer. Next time down Pickett put his head down and bulldozed into the lane for an obvious charging foul. Next time down he hiked up a quick corner three-pointer and missed. This was Mizzou’s early-season offense in a nutshell: the combination of failing to finish at the rim on some possessions and failing to get optimal through offensive execution on others.

SIU CARBONDALE (2-2): The Salukis scored a huge 67-63 victory over Power 5 opponent Colorado at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. Steven Verplancken Jr. hit four three-pointers with his vital 18-point performance. Marcus Domask (17 points) and Lance Jones (14 points) had typically strong games. But then the offensive wheels came off during an ugly 59-47 loss to Northeastern. Domask missed 13 of 14 shots from the field and Lance Jones went 0-for-6 from three-point range.

MISSOURI STATE (2-1): The Bears scored a nice road victory by rolling 77-55 at Sam Houston State. The usual suspects delivered for Missouri State: Isiaih Mosley (21 points, five rebounds), Gaige Prim (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Ja’Monta Black (15 points, four rebounds). Now the Bears have a big work week at the Naples Invitational in Florida, starting with Monday night’s game against Long Beach State.

SIU EDWARDSVILLE (2-4): The Cougars went 1-2 at the J. Arnold Wealth Management Company Tournament in Youngstown, Ohio – with the one victory coming against host Youngstown State. Collinsville’s Ray’Sean Taylor continued his excellent play with a 24-point effort in that game. Taylor (17. 3 points per game) and Shaun Doss Jr. (12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds per game) are off to strong starts. But the Cougars have some work to do before facing Creighton in their next game.

SEMO (1-2): The glow of the Redhawks’ season-opening 99-94 victory at Missouri State wore off quickly. A lopsided loss at home to Youngstown State was followed, a week later, by a 72-60 loss to Arkansas State at home. SEMO was outrebounded 45-32 in that game and had a tough (32.6 percent) shooting night from the floor. After scoring 19 points against Missouri State, Chris Harris scored just 11 points in the last two games.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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