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No. 20 Missouri out to strike first vs. Vanderbilt

Dec 28, 2022; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Chris Livingston (24) celebrates after scoring with guard Nick Honor (10) and guard D'Moi Hodge (5) during the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

No. 20 Missouri will try to regain its offensive swagger when it hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday at Columbia, Mo.

The Tigers (12-2, 1-1 SEC) raced to fast starts against three consecutive ranked opponents: Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas. Missouri defeated the lllini 93-71 and the Wildcats 89-75, but faded to a 74-68 loss against the Razorbacks.

“We’re big on trying to make the first blow,” said Missouri guard Sean East II, who scored a team-high 13 points against Arkansas. “You know, hit the first punch and not respond to their lick. So we just try to come out and execute the game plan the way the coach wants us to.”

Missouri built a 25-8 lead at Arkansas midway through the first half Wednesday but failed to sustain the momentum. The Razorbacks stepped up their defensive pressure at one end and solved the Tigers’ zone defense at the other end.

“Ultimately, we were just stifled,” Missouri coach Dennis Gates said. “We had the lead for 25 minutes in that game. We gotta close it. But you know, we got another lesson that we’ve learned.”

The Tigers will try to do a better job of sustaining their play against Vanderbilt (8-6, 1-0) in order to get back on track. The Commodores opened their conference schedule with an 84-79 overtime victory at home over South Carolina on Tuesday.

Coach Jerry Stackhouse shuffled his starting lineup against the Gamecocks by bringing usual starters Liam Robbins (22 points, seven rebounds, six blocked shots), Ezra Manjon (24 points, four assists) and Jordan Wright (13 points) off the bench with positive results.

“(Robbins) really controlled the paint for us, got to the foul line, finished around the basket,” Stackhouse said. “And (Manjon), his floor game was great tonight — waiting, being patient, getting to his spots and getting downhill and making plays for his teammates.”

Stackhouse said Thursday that he may use a smaller lineup against Missouri, which featured various three- and four-guard sets against Arkansas. Forward Myles Stute, a 45.6 percent shooter from 3-point range, could be a key for the Commodores if Missouri uses zone defenses while trying to contain the 7-foot Robbins.

The Tigers have been one of the SEC’s surprising teams this season with their combination of pressing defense and fast-paced offense. D’Moi Hodge (15.8 points per game), Kobe Brown (15.3), Noah Carter (10.4), DeAndre Gholston (10.3) and Nick Honor (10.1) lead a balanced attack.

While they blew a 17-point lead at Arkansas, the Tigers stabilized down the stretch and cut the deficit to three points in the final minute.

“I’m really just proud of our guys,” said Honor, who scored 12 points in that game. “We competed well and, at the end of the day, when we look at it, we’re doing a lot better than everybody expected. And we believed this since the beginning.

“So it was a loss but it was definitely a lesson. I mean, we feel that we’re one of the top teams in the country. And we just continue to get better and look at our mistakes and move on.”

–Field Level Media