COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) The Missouri Tigers put to rest any questions of whether they would be motivated to play in the National Invitation Tournament.
After missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years, Missouri overcame two 13-point deficits in the second half and won its NIT opener against Davidson 85-77 on Tuesday.
”There’s a lot of teams that don’t play,” coach Frank Haith said. ”We talked about competing. When you have a young team, you have a chance. You can use it as a springboard.”
Jabari Brown scored 30 points, including his 1,000th career point at Missouri, and Earnest Ross added 16 for the Tigers (23-11), who advance to face the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between Southern Mississippi and Toledo.
De’Mon Brooks led Davidson (20-13) with a career-high 29 points. The Wildcats ended their season with two consecutive losses after winning 13 in a row to win the Southern Conference regular-season title.
The legaue player of the year fought back tears after the game, saying he told his teammates in the locker room how quickly time flies.
”I’ve been at Davidson for the past four years,” Brooks said. ”It’s changed my life. It’s the best decision of my life coming to this school. I’d do anything for anything affiliated with Davidson.”
Missouri trailed 54-41 with 16:52 remaining following a 16-4 run by the Wildcats but scored 12 of the next 16 points and took a 69-67 lead on a traditional three-point play by Johnathan Williams III with 6:05 left – Missouri’s first advantage since the 10:41 mark of the first half.
Brown then sparked a 10-2 Missouri run to give the Tigers an 81-74 lead with 1:17 remaining. Davidson’s Tyler Kalinoski hit a 3-pointer to end the streak, but the Wildcats could get no closer than four points the rest of the way.
Kalinoski finished with 16 points.
The Tigers played with a three-man bench following the arrests of freshmen guards Wes Clark and Shane Rector on Saturday for suspicion of 35 grams or less of marijuana. Tony Criswell sat out for a violation of team rules and Corey Haith watched while nursing an injury.
Despite Missouri playing shorthanded, Davidson coach Bob McKillop said the Tigers wore his team down. Davidson shot 51.5 percent (17 of 33) from the field in the first half but only 32.4 percent (11 of 34) after the break.
”(Jordan) Clarkson and Ross and Brown have the bodies of pro guards,” he said. ”Brian Sullivan certainly doesn’t. They took advantage of that throughout the game. I think the guards overpowered us.”
Missouri shot 58 percent (29 of 50) from the field, its best performance of the year behind a 62.3 percent performance at Mississippi State on March 1. Brown noted the importance of bench players such as Danny Feldmann, who contributed four points and four rebounds in a season-high 22 minutes.
”Danny really stepped up. He knows every word, where he’s supposed to be on the court, offense and defense. He’s not afraid to make plays,” Brown said. ”When the opportunity presents itself, he did that.”
The Tigers improved to 2-7 all-time in the NIT in front of a season-low attendance of 2,403, with their only other win coming in 1996.