LAS VEGAS -- Missouri earned its sixth consecutive game to open the season, beating Northwestern 78-67 victory Thursday night in the Las Vegas Invitational.
However, it was win No. 1 this season for Tigers head coach Frank Haith.
Haith sat out Missouri's first five games while serving an NCAA suspension related to violations that occurred when he was the head coach at Miami (Fla.). He had a big smile on his face when asked by a reporter what it meant to be back on the bench and coaching again.
"It's great," Haith said. "It's a blessing to get back doing what I love doing. I love my job. There are not a lot of people who love their jobs, but I really love my job. It's a blessing to get to be doing something that I absolutely love."
The Tigers made it even more enjoyable by outscoring the Wildcats 44-28 in the second half. Missouri led by as many as 15 points with 2:51 to go.
A big reason for the surge was Missouri's dominance in the paint. The Tigers outrebounded the Wildcats 35-19 and finished with a 40-14 edge in points in the paint.
Tigers guard Jordan Clarkson led the way with a team-high 21 points. Many came at the end of drives to the basket after Northwestern 7-foot center Alex Olah went to the bench after picking up his fourth foul -- and his second foul in a 21-second span -- with 18:22 remaining and the Wildcats trailing 40-39.
"It killed us," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "We don't have a lot of big bodies. He gets the two quick ones, and it put us in a tough spot."
Haith said, "We wanted to go at him. Once he got his third foul, we wanted to continue to attack those guys. He was really hurting us. We had a tough time guarding him."
Tigers forwards Johnathan Williams III and Ryan Rosburg took advantage of Northwestern's hole in the middle by each scoring career highs of 14 points. Guard Jabari Brown added 15 points, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed eight rebounds.
Missouri took control of the game with a 14-0 spurt to start the second half and never looked back.
"They had their way with us in the paint," Collins said. "They had 40 points in the paint and outrebounded us by 16. It makes it really hard to win."
Haith added, "I thought our strength was an advantage going into the game and not settling for quick 3s. We did a much better job of moving the ball and attacking in the paint."
Northwestern (4-3) also was hindered by the fact that senior forward Drew Crawford, who came in averaging 16.3 points and a team-best 8.0 rebounds, sat out the second half with back spasms. He finished with two points on 1-of-6 shooting and didn't grab a rebound in 13 minutes of action.
"(The back spasms) happened on the flight on the way over here," Collins said. "He locked up a little bit. He worked through it yesterday, and he was feeling pretty good. Then early in the game he made a move and it got hit, and he could never get the spasm out.
"He tried to play through it. The start of the second half, the way he was moving, it's just not worth it. It's a long season, and certainly he's our best player, so we need to get him healthy."
Guard JerShon Cobb did his best to keep the Wildcats close, scoring 22 points and grabbing five rebounds. Freshman forward Nathan Taphorn and guard Tre Demps each added 11 points.
"I was proud of the way our guys fought," Collins said. "Our guys fought to the finish and fought for 40 minutes."
Northwestern shot 19-for-45 (42.2 percent) from the floor, while Missouri shot 25-for-47 (53.2 percent).
NOTES: Northwestern was playing its first game in Las Vegas since a 1977 appearance in the Las Vegas Classic. That year, the Wildcats lost 101-95 to UNLV before defeating Tennessee 93-86. ... Despite being situated around 400 miles apart, Missouri and Northwestern met for the first time in 45 years. The teams last faced off Dec. 5, 1968, in Evanston, Ill., with Dale Kelley scoring a game-high 20 points in the Wildcats' 67-60 victory. ... Northwestern finishes Las Vegas Invitational play Friday against UCLA, a 105-84 winner over Nevada earlier Thursday. Missouri faces the Wolf Pack on Friday. Because Missouri and UCLA already were scheduled to play on Dec. 7 in Columbia, Mo., it was agreed during the summer they would not also play in the LVI.