COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) After scoring 80 points in wins against West Virginia and UCLA, No. 24 Missouri struggled to maintain any momentum Sunday after an eight-day break for final exams.
“When you win ballgames at a high level, you can’t be turning the ball over, trying to get the ball inbounds,” coach Frank Haith said. “And that’s an area where we had some mishaps.”
Indeed, the Tigers looked rusty at times in their 66-60 win against Western Michigan.
They were clinging to a 47-45 lead with 10:46 remaining before Tony Criswell’s jumper two minutes later capped a 9-0 run as Missouri (10-0) pulled away.
Jabari Brown led the team with 15 points, while Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross both added 12, but the Tigers registered their lowest scoring output of the season.
The Tigers made 50 percent of their shots (23 of 46), but only scored two points during a seven-minute stretch in the first half before Clarkson, the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer (20.2 points per game), hit one of two free throws with 3:47 before the break.
Missouri also committed nine turnovers and yielded five offensive rebounds in the first half to Western Michigan, which trailed 31-22 after 20 minutes despite shooting 9 of 34.
“I don’t feel like we needed as much a lift offensively as we did energy,” said Criswell, who finished with 10 points off the bench.
St. Louis native David Brown led Western Michigan (5-4) with 18 points and Shayne Whittington added 16 points and 10 rebounds. Brown leads the Mid-American Conference with 20.1 points per game, but has only totaled 44 points in his last three games on 28 percent shooting.
Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said his team got away from its identity in a 51-35 loss at Northwestern on Dec. 7, but was more comfortable with the Broncos’ effort at Missouri.
“The Northwestern game we just weren’t aggressive,” he said. “We were just completely out of sync. In this game, I felt like the kids were ready and we were aggressive but we just missed shots.”
Western Michigan made 24.4 percent of its shots in its last game after a combined 55.5 percent performance against Cornell and Oakland in their previous two contests. The team finished at 30 percent (21 of 70) overall Sunday after only making 2 of 16 from 3-point range in the first half.
The Broncos started the second half on an 11-4 run to pull within 35-33, but couldn’t quite catch Missouri. They fell to 3-2 all-time against teams currently in the SEC, but haven’t defeated an SEC opponent since beating Auburn on Dec. 17, 2002.
“It would have been beneficial for everybody if we would have hit shots in the first half so we wouldn’t have so much pressure on us in the second half,” said Whittington, who recorded his fifth double-double of the season and leads the MAC with 11 rebounds per game.
Missouri’s defense continued its strong start to the season. The team has yet to allow an opponent to shoot better than 44.3 percent from the field this season, and only Hawaii has topped 71 points.
“It’s good for us to have those type of games where we have to scrap it out to get it done,” Haith said.
Missouri stretched its NCAA-best homecourt winning streak to 25 games and has won 80 straight games against nonconference opponents at Mizzou Arena dating to the 2005-06 opener.
Missouri now waits another six days to play its next game, the annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis against Illinois.