COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Kassius Robertson had to make a stop.
After missing two free throws with 2.7 seconds to play, Missouri held a one-point lead over Stephen F. Austin. Robertson had been on fire throughout Tuesday night. He couldn’t let two missed free throws decide its outcome.
As Robertson and Jontay Porter went with SFA’s Ivan Canete after the rebound, Robertson knew Canete would throw the ball back to an open teammate.
So Robertson dove. He grabbed the ball, and Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin called timeout. Robertson’s steal sealed the deal in Missouri’s 82-81 victory over the Lumberjacks.
“I don’t know what to say,” Robertson said. “I was so shocked that I missed those free throws, I had to forget about it to make sure we didn’t lose the game because then it would have been a lot worse.”
Robertson scored 23 points and Jordan Barnett had 22 points in the Tigers’ fifth-straight win.
Aaron Augustin hit a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left to pull the Lumberjacks within 81-78, and then Porter made 1 of 2 from the line with 24 seconds to go. Kevon Harris hit another 3 with 18 seconds left to make it a one-point game.
“You’re not coming down, walking the ball into your offense,” Martin said. “You got to be able to make plays. And we did enough, and guys made shots. … I think we got what we needed from the perimeter, we just didn’t get enough from the post because of how they defended.”
Missouri (10-2) started out efficient, making 10 of its first 11 shots, six of them 3-pointers, including the last four. But SFA stayed close, making 9 of 18, and only trailed 28-21 after Barnett’s 3-pointer at the 9:23 mark.
The Tigers finished the first half making 8 of 12 3-pointers and 14 of 21 overall — plus 12 of 13 free throws. Still, they only led 48-40.
The Lumberjacks scored eight straight points, the last four by Shannon Bogues, and turned that into an 18-6 run, closing to 66-65 on free throws by Ty Holyfield with 5:56 to play. Leon Gilmore III made 1 of 2 free throws to tie it at 70.
Kevon Harris scored 19 points and Holyfield added 18 to lead Stephen F. Austin (10-2), which was coming off an 83-82 win at LSU on Saturday.
“This game doesn’t affect us, as far as the NCAA Tournament goes,” SFA coach Kyle Keller said. “It’s like practice for us. Our guys enjoy that better than practice every day because they get to beat up on someone else — or try to, or get their fannies beat in by them, which is really what happened.”
Stephen F. Austin: The Lumberjacks’ stifling defense sets up well for a conference title run, and maybe a tournament appearance. They forced 21 Missouri turnovers with the team that is second in the nation in steals getting 11.
Missouri: The Tigers continue to show they can compete without their star freshman, Michael Porter Jr., who is out with a back injury. Tuesday’s game was no doubt a test for Missouri, and being able to learn from and overcome the Lumberjacks’ stifling defense will help the Tigers later down the road.
Martin visited the Lumberjacks’ locker room after the game to praise SFA. The Stephen F. Austin basketball Twitter account shared part of his speech.
“You all got just as much talent as we got, man,” he told the Lumberjacks . “I ain’t telling you to make you feel good when you go home. I’m telling you real talk. I’ve never done this in my career. Guys I’m telling you, you got a hell of a team.”
HE SAID IT
Keller on playing two-straight SEC opponents: “I had 192 text messages between the time the game was over and the time I got to my phone on Saturday. Our school really had never beaten an SEC school before, so that was really a big deal for my team and my kids. And then, hey, we’re going to try to do something again? Coach Martin has that edge about him, and his team has his personality, they kind of got it. And I have to get my guys back to that level, to compete about (Martin’s) cats? At that level? And push the LSU game out of their minds? My guys, they’re pretty good, but we got hit in the mouth, really good.”
Stephen F. Austin heads back home to face Arlington Baptist in its last non-conference game on Thursday.
Missouri travels to St. Louis to face Illinois on Saturday. It’ll be the Tigers last non-conference game before beginning SEC play at South Carolina on Jan. 3
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