By-the-book defense lifts Mizzou
BUFFALO – Missouri senior forward Keith Ramsey didn’t need any extra incentive as he headed into his final NCAA tournament.
His coach provided it anyway.
Mike Anderson inspired Ramsey by telling him that Clemson’s players didn’t think Missouri had anyone who could guard All-ACC forward Trevor Booker.
“We went out there and took that as a slap in the face,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey responded with a career-high 20 points as 10th-seeded Missouri downed seventh-seeded Clemson 86-78 in a first-round East Regional game at the HSBC Arena. Missouri advanced to a second-round game Sunday against second-seeded West Virginia, which thrashed Morgan State 77-50 earlier in the day.
Missouri scored 20 points off 20 turnovers and outscored Clemson 22-2 in fast-break points, but the frontcourt contributed as much to this victory as the ball-hawking guards. Ramsey, Laurence Bowers and Steve Moore teamed to limit Booker to five points in the first 37 minutes.
The quote Anderson used as bulletin-board material apparently came from Clemson guard Demontez Stitt, who said at a Thursday news conference that he didn’t think Missouri had the post presence to guard Booker.
Stitt had good reason to believe that. Missouri (23-10) lost one of its top big men Feb. 24 when junior Justin Safford tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Laurence Bowers, a sophomore forward, is playing despite having two torn ligaments in his left wrist.
It was thought a shorthanded frontcourt was going to have its hands full with Booker, the only player in ACC history with 1,500 career points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 blocks and 100 steals.
Ramsey and Co. were up to the challenge. Booker finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, but more than half his points came in the final three minutes. He didn’t score as much as either Ramsey or Bowers, who had 15 points despite a heavily bandaged wrist.
“Coach said that whenever he touches it, right before he puts the ball on the ground, we’re going to trap him,” Bowers said. “That’s what we did, and we came up with a lot of steals. He got a few at the end off rebounds and stuff, but I think we did a pretty good job of containing him.”
Booker occasionally showed his frustration with Missouri’s physical approach to guarding him. At times, Missouri may have gotten a bit too physical.
“I think we were fouling him a lot,” Ramsey said. “He wasn’t getting a lot of calls, but that’s a part of the game. So that made him real frustrated.”
Missouri was so focused on stopping Booker in the first half that it didn’t pay enough attention to the perimeter. Clemson made eight of its first 11 attempts from 3-point range and built a nine-point lead midway through the first half. But Clemson (21-11) went just 4-for-13 from beyond the arc the rest of the way as Missouri gradually took control of the game. Clemson hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1997 and has lost to a lower-seeded opponent in each of the past three seasons.
“Their main focus coming into the game was to slow down Trevor,” said Clemson guard Andre Young, who came off the bench to score a game-high 21 points. “They double- and triple-teamed him all night. In the beginning, we had our legs and we were able to knock down shots. Coming into the second half, some of the shots didn’t go down. And they were still doubling on ‘Book.’ I mean, they were pretty much making him earn everything.
“We just knocked them down in the first half. We hit some in the second, but not as much.”
Bowers did a great job for Missouri at less than full strength, but the story of the game was Ramsey. He headed into Friday having scored in double figures just six times all season. He was 8-for-11 from the floor against Clemson and also had eight rebounds and four assists.
Anderson ought to read derogatory comments to him before every game.
“All the seniors, we’re playing like it’s our last game every game,” he said.
Ramsey played well enough to ensure this game wouldn’t be his last.