No. 20 Tigers hold off Vanderbilt, 85-82

D’Moi Hodge threw up in the locker room.

The senior guard battled the flu all game long on Saturday as No. 20 Missouri hosted Vanderbilt. You wouldn’t have been able to tell for the most part while he was on the floor, though.

Hodge led the Tigers through the first half with 14 points, two rebounds, three steals and a block to help Mizzou edge out the Commodores for an 85-82 victory.

“For him to be able to come out and do what he did is excellent, because he put us on his back when we were down early,” head coach Dennis Gates said.

The Tigers had their worst start to a game in SEC play. The hosts scored just two points in the opening five minutes of Saturday’s contest — a pair of free throws from junior forward Ronnie DeGray III — missing all six of their field goal attempts. It allowed Vanderbilt (8-7, 1-1 SEC) to get a jump on Mizzou, taking a 10-2 lead. It was the biggest deficit the Tigers had in the first half of a game since playing No. 6 Kansas on Dec. 10.

Hodge finally took the lid off the basket with a 3-pointer at the 14:43 mark. He’d score eight more points to help the home team tie the game up, including two more shots from beyond the arc.

“I mean, it’s the SEC. Every team’s gonna be good coming out,” senior forward Noah Carter said. “It (was) 11 a.m. when we started the game, so that might have had a little bit to do with it. But no, we just had to bounce back, persevere through all the runs because we’re gonna get every team’s best shot. So you know, just hunkering down and getting into our groove is all we needed to do.”

The teams knotted the game up at 34-34 at the half, with Hodge scoring nearly half of Mizzou’s points. He didn’t have as big of an impact in the second, playing just nine minutes and scoring three points, finishing the game with 17. But he’d gotten his team out of the mud despite being under the weather. It was all the team needed from him.

“Ultimately, you know, he gave everything he had,” Gates said. “And that’s what a true unbelievable, experienced player can do. They can play through sicknesses. They can play through adversity and give their very best no matter what the wall is.”

Gholston, Carter push Mizzou across the finish line

When the Tigers’ plane landed returning from the team’s trip to Fayetteville, Ark., earlier this week, Gates put senior guard DeAndre Gholston in his car and drove him to Mizzou Arena. The pair sat in the parking lot for two and a half hours talking about what Gholston means to the team.

Gholston received the title of “The Rock” before the season began. The Milwaukee transfer didn’t understand what it meant then. He still doesn’t fully understand it now.

“His worth, when he walks into a room, gives our guys confidence,” Gates said, trying to describe it. “And he has to understand that no stat, no accolade can replace how he impacts our team.”

The conversation sparked something in Gholston. He trailed only Hodge in the first half by scoring seven points. When Hodge had to go to the bench more often in the second half, Gholston stepped up, adding another 11 points to finish the game with 18, tying senior forward Kobe Brown for the team lead.

“When you’re being challenged by your head coach, teammates, anything like that, you gotta take it personally in a good way,” Gholston said. “And I think tonight I just decided to come in with a better mindset and I just executed what Coach asked of me. And my teammate needed me and it worked out for us.”

Gholston wasn’t the only player to have a big night off the bench. Carter, who’d been held to single-digit points in each of the last four games, chipped 16 against the Commodores to go along with five rebounds and two steals.

As the game tightened toward the end of the second half, Gholston and Carter came up with timely buckets to give Mizzou a shot of momentum. The seniors made seven free throws in the final three minutes to clinch the victory.

In a game with seven lead changes, they made a difference

“It’s almost like tag team wrestling — I’m a wrestling fan by the way,” Gates said. “So (Hodge) tagged … ‘Dre in. And ‘Dre came in and did what he had to do, tagged back out and etc. And that is excellent, excellent teamwork and unselfishness. Because when you give of yourself, great things will happen, great things will happen. And I’m excited about what I saw tonight with that connectivity, but also the awareness that our players had by saying, ‘Coach, keep this lineup in.'”

Losing the (rebounding) battle, but winning the war

Missouri had another rough day on the boards, allowing Vanderbilt to post a 46-27 rebounding advantage. The visitors scored 17 second-chance points off of 15 offensive rebounds, helping them outscore the Tigers in the paint, 53-43.

Gates still didn’t seem too alarmed by it.

“I look at the complete game analytically. Anyone can look at the numbers and say we got outrebounded but ultimately, you have to be able to hold that as your only negative,” Gates said. “So offensive rebounds is just an opportunity to get the ball back. I think we make that up by being able to get the ball back defensively but also take care of the ball offensively.”

Up next

Mizzou (13-2, 2-1) will be on the road all next week, matching up with Texas A&M (9-5, 1-0) in College Station, Texas, on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and Florida (8-7, 1-2) in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

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