No. 25 Missouri will look to ignite its high-octane offense against No. 17 Tennessee’s stingy defense on Friday afternoon when the teams renew acquaintances in a Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinal clash in Nashville, Tenn.
The fourth-seeded Tigers (23-8) certainly are well rested after receiving a double-bye in the tournament. They have been idle since posting an 82-77 victory over Ole Miss on Saturday, while the fifth-seeded Volunteers (23-9) began defense of their conference title by outlasting the Rebels in a second-round tilt on Thursday.
“Offensively, they’re one of the best in the country. Defensively, we’re up there, too. It’s going to be a battle, just like it was in Knoxville,” Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi told SEC Network following his team’s 70-55 victory over Ole Miss.
That battle in Knoxville was a memorable one as DeAndre Gholston drained a half-court shot at the buzzer to lift Missouri to an 86-85 victory on Feb. 11.
Gholston’s long-distance heave concluded a 14-for-26 performance from beyond the arc against Tennessee, which sports the nation’s top 3-point defense. Gholston and D’Moi Hodge each made four 3-pointers in that game while Kobe Brown added three.
Brown, who scored 21 points in that contest, earned All-SEC First Team honors after posting team-best averages in points (15.9) and rebounds (6.2).
Hodge has contributed 14.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game under first-year coach Dennis Gates, however the former and the latter did not receive All-SEC honors — much to the displeasure of Nick Honor.
“I believe coach Gates should have won coach of the year, just for what he did in one year and turned things around, also I believe D’Moi Hodge was snubbed a little bit,” Honor said. “It is what it is.”
Missouri has averaged 80.1 points per game on the season under Gates. The Tigers’ 23 wins are their most since 2013-14 and nearly double their total from last season (12).
“Two teams are going to play well and somebody has to come away with a loss,” Gates said, per the Columbia Daily Tribune. “You just hope in that melting pot of a season, from your non-conference all the way through to conference, that you have had enough experiences that can help you.”
Josiah-Jordan James collected 20 points and seven rebounds and Vescovi added 15 and six, respectively, on Thursday. Vescovi also made three 3-pointers, marking the eighth time in nine games that he has reached that total.
Tennessee shot 47.1 percent from the floor and held a 38-22 edge in rebounds.
James spoke with the SEC Network about the Volunteers overcoming obstacles, including the season-ending ACL injury of All-SEC second-team member Zakai Zeigler.
“It’s tough. We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity with injuries and people going down,” James said. “Our mentality since the day I got on campus was next man up. We know everyone in that locker room is prepared to play. We know we have enough in that locker room to win night in and night out.”
–Field Level Media