Nick Honor didn’t have much of a plan.
Mizzou put the ball in the senior point guard’s hands down one point in the waning seconds of overtime during the team’s game against Mississippi State on Tuesday. Honor received a screen from senior forward Noah Carter at the top of the key and the Bulldogs’ defenders switched assignments. Honor, who’s listed at 5-foot-10, was suddenly matched up with MSU redshirt senior post Tolu Smith, who’s listed at 6-foot-11. David was face-to-face with Goliath.
Honor took two dribbles to his left, Smith sticking with him. Honor ducked down, feigning a drive to the rim, making Smith plant on his right leg and slide his lead foot back a few inches. It created just enough space for Honor to get a shot off. Still in a crouched position, Honor grabbed the ball with both hands and rose up to release a 3-pointer.
David defeated Goliath. Honor’s shot rolled around the rim and fell in, giving Missouri the lead with 7.6 seconds left. Mississippi State wasn’t able to score with its final possession, sealing the 66-64 win for the Tigers inside Mizzou Arena.
“I’ll tell you one thing: Nick Honor may not have been shooting the ball the way I know he has, but I know what has been taking place behind the scenes,” head coach Dennis Gates said. “And he’s never stopped putting in the work. I want him to shoot more, I need him to be a little bit more selfish. I yelled, ‘Shoot it!’ and he shot it. So I’m glad (he) listened to me and listened to (himself).”
Honor’s shooting 39.6% from beyond the arc this season, but had made just 1-8 in his last two games, both of them losses for MU. His night didn’t start off much better on Tuesday, missing his first attempt from distance with 12:23 remaining in the second half.
Feeling out of sync shooting from outside, the Clemson transfer leaned on his playmaking skills, dishing out four assists in the first half with just one turnover. He had just one more dime for the rest of the game, but saved the best for last.
Honor had joked with Kobe Brown about connecting on an alley-oop at some point this year. The time finally came during one of the most crucial points of the season. The Tigers trailed 44-40 with 11:05 left in the second half and hadn’t held a lead since the 2:53 mark of the first half. Senior guard Tre Gomillion intercepted a pass, then pitched the ball ahead to Honor to initiate a fast break. With a three-on-one advantage, Honor floated a lob from just inside the 3-point line to Brown, who caught the ball with one hand on the right side of the rim and flushed it down.
“It might not have been the prettiest pass, I thought I overthrew it, but he did a good job of catching it,” Honor said. “And any time we can run, as you guys can see, that’s our strength. So as many times as we can do that, we’ll be successful.”
The tide immediately turned in Mizzou’s favor, with the crowd of 12,014 rising to their feet as the team got back on defense. The hosts forced a jumpball, then trapped an MSU ball-handler on the right sideline and forced him to step out of bounds. Brown sank a layup at the other end to tie it. The visitors called timeout, then committed a shot clock violation with their next possession. Brown drew a foul on the next trip down and sank both of his free throws to take the lead.
Brown continued to power his team through the end of regulation, scoring 10 points in the second half alone. When Mizzou had the ball on the baseline tied 57-57 with 2.4 seconds left in the second, his teammates turned to him. Brown snuck under the rim and received the inbound pass, but missed the layup point-blank, sending the game into overtime.
“He put both elbows on his knees and, literally, his head was down. That’s discouragement, right?” Gates said. “That’s a guy that wants to win so bad that you know it hurts. But the way these guys responded, top to bottom, they lifted his spirits and we were able to then get out of that.”
Honor finally canned a triple with Missouri’s first possession of overtime. The Bulldogs (18-10, 6-9 SEC) fought back to take a two-point lead. Carter drained a 3-pointer 47 seconds left to push the hosts back in front. The visitors answered with a floater in the paint, leading to Honor’s game-winner on the next possession.
Honor ended the night with 10 points, four rebounds and five assists. Brown added 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and five steals. The victory counted as the Tigers’ 20th of the year. It’s the first time they’ve won 20 games in a season since 2017-18. The 66 points they scored in Tuesday night’s game was the lowest they’ve had in any win this year.
“My purpose and my aim is to try to deliver the best program that we possibly can with our staff, with our players, with our administration and with our student body and community,” Gates said. “I think that’s what allowed us to win tonight. It was a game that had remnants of March it was a game that I thought had minimal runs, which is seen in conference tournaments. That was a conference tournament game and a conference tournament feel … I can’t say it enough, but it was a team win. And I’m proud of our guys.”
Tre Gomillion gives his all
The senior guard returned from a groin injury in MU’s game against Texas A&M on Saturday that had sidelined him for a month. Gates played the Cleveland State transfer for three minutes against the Aggies just to get his feet wet, though Gomillion had a minimal impact.
The head coach shoved Gomillion into the deep end against Mississippi State, playing him a season-high 28 minutes. He ended up being a life preserver for the Tigers, producing eight points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Gomillion said he hadn’t sat out a game due to injury in his entire college career before this season. It had him hungry to get back on the floor.
“It was a little bit of steam I had to let out after being out for so long,” Gomillion said. “That just drove me crazier and crazier and it just built up and I got a chance to let a little bit of it out tonight. I don’t think I got it all out, though.”
Diarra debuts in the starting five
Junior forward Mohamed Diarra has come a long way this season. The big man from Montreuil, France, was completely out of Gates’ rotation roughly two months ago. He returned to action in mid-January and slowly carved out a role, establishing himself as one of the team’s better rebounders and interior defenders.
Diarra worked his way into a spot in the starting lineup in Tuesday’s game, tasked with guarding Tolu Smith, the Bulldogs’ best player. Gates gave him the news on Sunday. He said Diarra had to hold back a smile.
“I think he earned that. And I think you guys would say the same with what he’s been doing,” Gates said. “But transitions happen for different people at different times. And ultimately his transition has allowed him to work, get involved in the process, fall in love with it, do the necessary things he has to do on and off the court and then deliver on the consistency that we’ve asked of him.”
The Garden City Community College transfer gave Mizzou a spark it had been missing at the beginning of games. The Tigers missed four field goal attempts with its opening possession, but secured the ball all four times, Diarra coming up with two of the offensive rebounds. The possession ended with Diarra drawing a foul and getting sent to the free throw line. He missed both of his shots, but got Mizzou on the board the next trip down with a layup. The next possession, he sent a bounce pass to senior guard D’Moi Hodge, who ran a backdoor cut down the right baseline and finished at the rim.
Diarra was limited to 17 minutes, fouling out late in the second half, but finished the night with five points, four rebounds, two assists and a block.
“I’m proud of him and he definitely made a difference,” Gates said.
Missouri (20-8, 8-7 SEC) heads out for its last road trip of the regular season, taking on Georgia (16-12, 6-9) on Saturday at noon CT and LSU (12-15, 1-13) on Wednesday, March 1, at 8 p.m. CT.
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