Sitting your best player just as your team is starting to build momentum is almost unthinkable. Especially when that player is senior forward Kobe Brown.
No one on Missouri’s roster makes the Tigers’ net rating swing as much as Brown does. In conference play, per CBB Analytics, Mizzou is plus-3.5 per 100 possessions in the 479 minutes Brown is on the floor and minus-21.0 in the 165 minutes he’s off of it, a difference of 24.5 points.
There was no reason to believe MU would get any better by removing the Huntsville, Ala. native from its lineup in Saturday’s road game against Georgia. Brown played all but one minute in the first half as Missouri trailed 41-40 going into halftime. He told head coach Dennis Gates during the intermission that he thought other members of the team should be playing over him. When he came out of the game at the 16:07 mark of the second half, his team led by six.
But the Tigers did, in fact, improve without him. When Brown returned with 9:45 left to play, Mizzou had extended the lead to 63-49. The team had a strong net rating of plus-26.3 in the 31 minutes Brown played against the Bulldogs. But Missouri had an even better rating of plus-59.8 in the eight minutes he wasn’t on the court.
Most of that had to do with the defensive play of Aidan Shaw. The freshman forward hadn’t stepped on the hardwood since the first half of the Tigers’ game against Texas A&M on Feb. 18. When his number was called in the second half of their game on Saturday, the rookie was ready for the moment.
Two possessions after subbing in, Shaw matched up with Georgia senior guard Terry Roberts in transition and forced Roberts to pick the ball up above the key and throw a long pass to a teammate cutting on the baseline. The pass was intercepted by Mizzou senior guard Tre Gomillion and senior point guard Nick Honor connected on a 3-pointer at the other end.
The Bulldogs called a timeout the next trip down, then swung the ball to junior guard Jabri Abdur-Rahim on the right wing. Shaw smothered him as Abdur-Rahim launched a trey and the ball missed the rim entirely, hitting the top of the backboard instead. On Georgia’s next possession, Abdur-Rahim caught an inbounds pass in the right corner and was trapped by Shaw and senior guard D’Moi Hodge. Abdur-Rahim sent a moonball to the top of the key that was tipped and stolen by Gomillion.
MU’s offensive rating took a slight dip in the nine minutes Shaw was on the floor, falling from 137.4 without him to 112.6 with him. But its defensive rating significantly improved, going from 109.1 without Shaw to 59.6 with him. The team’s net rating went from plus-28.3 to plus-53.0 with Shaw in the lineup. As Gates noted on Twitter after the contest, the “game really changed when (Shaw) was given an opportunity.”
There haven’t been many nights the Tigers could win without Brown off the floor, or with Brown taking zero shots in the second half as he did on Saturday. Gates trusted his team captain, even when Brown’s suggestion didn’t necessarily make sense. This time, it paid off.
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