BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP)—Missouri needed someone to take control Saturday.
Freshman Linas Kleiza didn’t give it a second thought.
The fourth-ranked Tigers rallied from a 14-point deficit over the final seven minutes, getting four straight points from Kleiza to keep them close and then his go-ahead three-point play as they held Indiana scoreless for the final 4:29 in a 63-58 victory.
“I hope it says a lot,” Kleiza said. “We just came so close and got a ‘W’.”
It was the third straight scare for the Tigers (3-0), but this was easily their most impressive comeback, closing the game with a 21-2 run.
For 33 minutes, Missouri looked anything but worthy of its lofty ranking.
Indiana dominated the tempo and consistently took away the Tigers’ usual scoring threats. Rickey Paulding finished with eight points, and Arthur Johnson had 15 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 4:29 left.
But Kleiza filled in admirably. He was 6-of-12 from the field, scored a season-high 15 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, hit a 3-pointer to get the Tigers close and finished the remarkable rally by completing the three-point play with 1:20 left to give Missouri its first lead since the game’s opening basket.
“The key thing was we got stops,” Tigers coach Quin Snyder said. “Some of that production on offense was us being relentless on the boards.”
It was a gut-wrenching defeat for the Hoosiers, who started 2-3 for the second time in coach Mike Davis’ four seasons.
What Davis liked was the way his team responded after an embarrassing loss at Wake Forest on Tuesday.
The Hoosiers played solid defense, and found other scoring options in their best performance of the season. Donald Perry finished with a career-high 13 points, while Bracey Wright added 12 and Marshall Strickland and A.J. Moye each had 10.
But without center George Leach for the second straight game because of a knee injury, the Hoosiers were no match inside for the bigger, quicker, more experienced Tigers.
Missouri held a 46-28 rebound advantage and grabbed three times as many offensive rebounds (21) as the Hoosiers.
“That was a physical team and it really showed our guys how hard we have to play every game,” Davis said. “But we improved.”
Indiana appeared headed to its first victory over a ranked team in six games when it jumped to a 39-26 halftime lead, one it maintained throughout most of the second half.
When Wright connected on a long 3-pointer with 7:15 to go, the Hoosiers were up 56-42.
But the Tigers clamped down on defense, not allowing Indiana another basket, and when Missouri needed an inside presence late, Kleiza stepped forward.
Travon Bryant and Jimmy McKinney scored six straight points to get the Tigers within eight. Bryant finished with 16 points.
After Sean Kline drew Johnson’s fifth foul and made two free throws to push the lead to 10, the Tigers charged right back.
Kleiza made one free throw, then hit his second 3-pointer of the season. Paulding followed that with a layup and Bryant hit an open 3 from the left corner to make it 58-57 with 2:05 left.
“Missouri picked up the intensity and executed in the last four minutes,” Kline said. “We didn’t. That’s why they beat us.”
Forty-five seconds later, Bryant missed a 15-footer and Kleiza grabbed the rebound, put it in and was fouled. His free throw made it 60-58 and Indiana never recovered—twice turning the ball over in the final minute as it tried futilely to come back.
“I told the guys this is what it feels like when you really lay it all out,” Snyder said. “We had guys keep their composure and really stay together mentally, and I think that’s why we won.”