Let the Madness begin

L.G. Patterson/AP

COLUMBIA --- A turn of the calendar, a flip of the season?

Either that, or Missouri just beat one of the worst teams in the nation.

Maybe it will be both.

The Tigers opened the Month of Madness in convincing fashion, however, getting big production from two big players who've been basically invisible this season in an 85-66 rout of the hapless Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

"It's March now and we want to be getting better each day in practice, playing better in each game," Tigers coach Frank Haith said.

This was not a champagne-popping victory, as Mississippi State --- the worst team in a really bad conference --- has more issues Justin Bieber.

A few notes about the Bulldogs, who aren't even on the NIT bubble:

* They've lost 11 straight.

* They remain winless on the road this season (0-9).

* They have an RPI of 219, just behind Lehigh and Wagner --- and 20 spots behind Lipscomb (199), 43 spots behind High Point (176) and 66 behind Wofford (153).


In addition, the Bulldogs (13-16, 3-13 SEC) played Saturday without leading scorer Craig Sword, who was attending his grandmother's funeral.

Still, Missouri (20-7, 8-8) did a lot of good things --- seven blocked shots, 19 assists on 33 baskets, 18 points in transition and 40 points in the paint.

The paint-points conversation starts with 6-11, 255-pound junior Keanau Post. Along with his game-high and season-high seven rebounds --- he had 31 rebounds in his previous 23 games --- Post was 6-for-6 from the field and scored a career-high 14 points.

Entering Saturday, Post had scored 18 points --- all season.

"He was very good, he's been coming," Haith said. "We see his skill set in practice all the time, it's just him being comfortable and confident in what he's doing.

"He can do some things our other post guys can't do."

Post, a transfer from Southwestern Illinois Community College, is a soft-spoken giant. If he were any more soft-spoken, he'd be using sign language.

"It felt great," he said in a near-whisper. "I think it just felt great knowing that the whole team was contributing to it."

Then there's Torren Jones, a 6-8 true freshman from Chandler, Ariz., who had three rebounds, was 4-for-4 from the field and tied his career high with eight points.

"When you get that kind of production out of those guys --- because our perimeter players are awfully good --- that makes us pretty doggone good," Haith said.

"Those guys were active and we're so much better when they play like that."

The Tigers trailed once, at 2-0, before scoring the next seven points and leading the rest of the way. They led 45-32 at the half, before the lead ballooned to 27 points on the heels of a 15-0 run in the second half.

"We don't deal very well with adversity," Bulldogs coach Rick Ray said. "When some adversity sets in, we don't have enough guys who deal with it."

I still think they could beat Wagner. Maybe.

Jabari Brown scored a game-high 21 points for the Tigers --- his 11th game of more than 20 points in 16 SEC games --- while Jordan Clarkson scored 14 and Earnest Ross had 11.

This guard trio making an impact is nothing new, but having big games from their big men certainly is.

This game offered another rarity --- 19 of Missouri's previous 21 games had been decided by 10 points or less; 13 were decided by six points or less.

"It felt good," said Haith, who reached the 20-win plateau for the third straight year at MU, "not to have it come down to the last two or three possessions.

Still, the Tigers sit tenuously on a very fragile NCAA bubble. Some "experts" have them as one of the last four in, others have them as one of the last four out.

"If we finish strong and get a couple wins in the SEC Tournament, I think we should be in.," Brown said. "This is March now, and we do not want to lose any games in March.

"March is our money time and we're going to make the most of it."

Show us the money.

Let the Madness begin.