Eighteen games in and it seems like Missouri head coach Dennis Gates has now figured out exactly who he is comfortable playing.
The Tigers moved to 14-4 (3-3) after their 79-76 win over No. 25 Arkansas on Wednesday, which saw Gates play 10 different players with nine of them recording 10 or more minutes including guard Isaiah Mosley, who hasn’t played since Dec. 17 against UCF. He didn’t start but he did play 19 minutes and registered eight points, all of which came in the first half, to go along with his two steals, one rebound and one assist.
“What it says is from day one, we built this team around doing things and accomplishing goals by committee,” Gates said. “I thought because of our guys’ versatility and confidence they have been able to fill in the gaps and lock in on the gameplan on both ends of the basketball and stay connected and play multiple positions. (In the second half) it was Kobe (Brown) and DeAndre (Gholston) and in the first half it was Isaiah, Aidan (Shaw) and Mo (Diarra).”
Forward Ronnie DeGray was the lone player of the 10 not to record more than 10 minutes of action, he played four minutes, even though he got the start in place of Noah Carterwho was out due to health and safety protocols alongside walk on Mabor Majak.
Diarra, who entered Wednesday’s game averaging less than a point per game on 25% shooting in 5.3 minutes per game across seven contests, provided a brief spark early on by making the team’s first three-pointer of the game which is notable because the Tigers shot 2 of 15 through the first 10 minutes of the game. Diarra finished the game with five points, two steals and a rebound in a season-high 10 minutes.
Gates said it was Brown who subtly told him during the week that Diarra was ready to play more minutes.
“He said ‘Coach I think Mo is ready,’ he said that in those two practices,” Gates said. “Those are the things you listen to and they’re players, but they also have confidence in each other and they’re connected.
“Leading into the Texas A&M game 一 Mo was the best player on our team. That’s an addition to the first-team all-conference guy (Brown) and an addition to the guy that got his 1,000th point today. I thought Mo was able to show his teammates when his back was against the wall, who he really is.”
Shaw came off the bench and made an immediate splash by making both of his three-point attempts in the first half. Entering this game, he was averaging 3.4 points per game and had connected on two of his 10 three-point attempts this season. Again, something Missouri desperately needed with how poorly it shot in the first half (11 of 30). He finished the game with seven points, a pair of rebounds and a steal in 10 minutes.
This marked the first time Diarra, Shaw and Mosley all played in the same game. So, when Carter comes back it means Shaw will have 11 players that he seems comfortable playing.
The first 32 or so minutes of Wednesday’s game showed Gates wasn’t afraid to dive deep into his bench, but the last few minutes spent he trusts the select five of Sean East II, Nick Honor, D’Moi Hodge, Gholston and Brown to be his closers. This is a familiar site to Mizzou fans this season and it’s obvious why.
In the final five minutes and 17 seconds, down eight, Missouri went on a 22-9 run to get its third win over a top-25 team this season.
East was scoreless in 11 minutes of action in the first half before finishing the game with 12 points on 3 of 6 shooting while also cashing in on all six of his free throw attempts in 25 minutes. Eight of his 12 points came during the stretch run.
Honor recorded one turnover in eight minutes of first-half action before finishing with five points in 26 minutes. He didn’t have the gaudiest stats, but he played good defense and helped keep Arkansas’s leading scorer, Ricky Council IVto 13 points on 4 of 11 shooting.
Hodge’s shooting woes continued as he finished the game with seven points on 1 of 7 shooting, but he made 5 of 6 free throws and recorded a block and a big-time charge in the second half.
So, despite shooting 6 of 26 (23%) and 3 of 20 from beyond the arc (15%) in his last three games (including this one) he was able to make plays on the defensive end which is something Gates was proud to see considering how good of a defender Hodge has the potential to be.
“I think in the past he allowed his offense to dictate his defense, but he’s a guy I’ve always said could be a potential defensive player of the year with his ability to get deflections, but also be in the right place,” Gates said. “That’s a guy I believe will help us and right now he’s not happy about going 0 of 5 (on three-pointers), but he was able to knock down some free throws and finish with seven points.”
Brown and Gholston led the charge with Brown finishing with a team-high 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 37 minutes despite getting hurt in the final minute.
“Kobe is cramping up and sprained his ankle and still wanted to play,” Gates said. “When you have that type of deliverance from your players, that means they don’t want to let the people who stand to their left and right down.”
What jumpstarted the Tigers’ 22-9 run was scoring the first 10 unanswered points, which Gholston attributed to the team putting its head down and controlling what it could control in what was a very physical game that saw the teams combine for 56 fouls.
“It’s things internally that we discuss every day, different scenarios and ways to respond,” Gholston said. “I think it’s the biggest thing in college basketball right now is the way you respond to things like refereeing, runs, missed shots, bad defensive possessions. The way we respond allows us to keep fighting and it helped us out tonight.”
Gholston finished the game with 16 points, three assists, two steals and a pair of rebounds in 29 minutes.
“I thought I heard a lot of great voices and great conversation between our players,” Gates said. “They said ‘Don’t panic, don’t blink this is a five-minute game.’ At that point, they didn’t pump the brakes and didn’t think twice. They were able to go on a 22-9 run which I ultimately think led with our defensive stops.”
When conference tournament time comes around in early March, most coaches shorten their rotation. So, it’s unlikely Gates will use 11 players then, but for now, he has them at his disposal to play double-digit minutes if needed and he also has a pretty good closing five to finish games too.
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