Mizzou improves to 9-0 with win over Evansville

Monday, December 4, 2006
An anguished Evansville coach Steve Merfeld sat on the bench during the second half of Missouri's 73-54 victory Sunday in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. PATTERSON ~ Associated Press)

Missouri shook a sluggish first half and went on to a 73-54 victory.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri coach Mike Anderson gave his team a special message heading into its first game after its biggest win of the season.

"He said 'a pat on the back will set you back,"' Missouri guard Keon Lawrence said.

And though Lawrence acknowledged the Tigers entered Sunday's game against Evansville with Thursday's win over Arkansas still in the back of their minds, they rebounded from a lackluster first half to beat Evansville 73-54 Sunday.

Anderson said the win over Arkansas may have been lingering in his team's head and called the Tigers "flat."

"I thought it was a gut-check for our guys," Anderson said. "They had a day to listen to people and have them pat them on the back and tell them how great they are."

Missouri (9-0) had its second-worst shooting day of the season, 44 percent, and its pressure defense didn't seem to bother the Purple Aces much during the first half. But an even slower shooting day from Evansville (4-3), 28 percent from the field, helped the Tigers grab an early lead and then pull away in the second half.

Kalen Grimes led Missouri with 12 points and 12 rebounds, his third double-double of the season. Stefhon Hannah, Jason Horton and Darryl Butterfield each scored 10 points for the Tigers.

Hannah, who entered the game leading the nation in steals, had three Sunday, along with five assists.

"He's a high major point guard, plain and simple; he's what makes them go," Evansville coach Steve Merfeld said.

Three days after forcing a season-high 24 turnovers, 17 coming off steals, the Missouri defense forced just six in the first half, along with just one steal. But another one of Anderson's talks at halftime, and the play of J.T. Tiller, helped Missouri put the game away in the second half.

With Missouri leading by eight points early in the half, Tiller scored three straight baskets in just over a minute to give Missouri a 14-point lead. After that, Evansville never got within 10 points and trailed by as many as 20.

"I call it an injection of energy from J.T. Tiller," Anderson said. "He's a guy that comes in and gave us some big minutes. And then, before you know it, it was like a wildfire."

Tiller's surge in the second half coincided with Missouri finally being able to wear down the Purple Aces. After forcing just six turnovers in the first half, Missouri forced 13 in the second half. Tiller finished with eight points and a steal in 15 minutes.

Two of Evansville's starting guards, Kyle Anslinger and Jason Holsinger, were a combined 0-for-20 from the field and combined for just three points. Bradley Strickland led Evansville with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Shy Ely came off the bench to score 12. Matt Webster, who averaged more than 15 points coming into the game, was held to just nine points on 1-for-5 shooting.

"That's the one thing you have to do against a team that presses for 40 minutes and disrupts you," Merfeld said. "You have to be able to make shots."

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