Strong second half lifts Mizzou over Cornell 78-59
BOISE, Idaho (AP)—No need to trademark this slogan, even if it did work perfectly for Missouri this time.
“20 Minutes of Hell.”
It was more than enough to lift Leo Lyons, DeMarre Carroll and the Tigers to a 78-59 win over Cornell in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday.
Lyons finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds and Carroll, the coach’s nephew, had all but two of his 13 points in the second half to help the third-seeded Tigers (29-6) pull away after a slow opening 20 minutes.
“I thought the second half was typical of our basketball team all year long,” said coach Mike Anderson, a longtime assistant of Nolan Richardson’s in Arkansas when “40 Minutes of Hell” was a college hoops catchphrase.
Anderson is trying to bring that intensity to Missouri, and it has led to the program’s first NCAA appearance in six years—and first win. Next up for the Tigers in the West Regional: a second-round game against Marquette on Sunday.
Ryan Wittman led the Ivy League champions with 18 points and by controlling the pace, 14th-seeded Cornell (21-10) found itself trailing by only four at the half.
But Mizzou’s talent took over after the break and the win gave the Big 12 a clean sweep—six wins, no losses through the first round of the tournament.
“Once I got into the locker room, my teammates were looking up to me,” Carroll said. “They really told me to be the junkyard dog that I am.”
Led by the junkyard dog, the Tigers opened the lead to double digits shortly after halftime and coasted in. They got easy layups by making the extra pass, and it showed in the stat sheet: Carroll finished with five assists and J.T. Tiller had six, as Mizzou finished with 19 assists on 28 baskets.
Kim English hit three 3-pointers to finish with 13 points.
On defense, Missouri’s full-court trap also started taking its toll. Anderson said the fact that Cornell had only nine turnovers—and only three at halftime—actually pleased him. Indeed, sometimes you can’t win for losing when you’re playing Mizzou.
“That plays right into our hands because maybe it means they’re more concerned about not turning it over than what they’re trying to do on offense,” he said.
Point well made.
Wittman shot 4-for-11 from 3-point range, and the nation’s third-best team from behind the arc made only six 3s all day—not enough to succeed at this level.
Cornell fell to 0-5 lifetime in the tournament and the Ivy League stayed winless since Princeton beat UNLV back in 1998. Still, this was much more competitive than Cornell’s 77-53 loss to Stanford in the first round last year.
“To me, the underrated thing with Mike’s team is their offense,” Cornell coach Steve Donahue said. “They don’t turn the ball over. They share the ball.”
Missouri made 12 of its first 22 shots in the second half to start pulling away.
With Wittman not at his best, Cornell tried going into 7-foot-1 center Jeff Foote. Facing only single coverage, he got great position inside but had trouble finishing when the game was still competitive. His final line still looked decent: 5-for-11 for 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Cornell shot only 35 percent and with the game getting out of reach, frustration started to show. Holding the ball and trying to create room on the sideline, Wittman pinged Zaire Taylor with a nasty elbow. The refs checked out the play on the monitor but decided only an offensive foul—not a flagrant— was in order.
Overall, it turned into a nice tune-up for Mizzou, a school troubled with NCAA problems and coaching changes for much of this decade. Even this year, the Tigers were picked as a second-division team in the Big 12, but Anderson’s (or Richardson’s) system started taking hold, wearing teams down and turning the Tigers into legit contenders.
“The runs, when the defense is good, they’re going to come,” Anderson said.
Carroll was the MVP when the Tigers won the Big 12 tournament last week, another nice reward for transferring to Missouri to help out his uncle after the system at Vanderbilt wasn’t to his liking.
And speaking of family, with Missouri comfortably ahead, Anderson was able to get his son, Michael Anderson Jr., into the game for a minute at the end—a nice close for a team that has built itself on family and character as much as the frenetic pace since the coach arrived from UAB three years ago.
Last January, with the program languishing and his job hardly secure, Anderson suspended five players before a conference game against Nebraska. Missouri lost, but the coach said it “wasn’t even a decision”—better to send the right message than get a win.
Six months before that, Carroll, the 6-8 forward from Birmingham, put his life on the line and got shot in the foot while playing peacemaker in a fight.
“Once I transferred here, everything started going wrong,” he said of the incident. But Anderson asked him to keep the faith, and because he did, he and the Tigers get to celebrate an NCAA tournament win.