Missouri Tigers guard Jabari Brown (32) is fouled from behind by Texas A&M Aggies guard Fabyon Harris (12) during the second half in the second round of the SEC college basketball tournament at Georgia Dome. Missouri defeated Texas A&M 91-83 in double overtime. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA - Missouri is the best in the Southeastern Conference when it comes to shooting free throws, but the Tigers certainly weren’t expecting to be at the line sealing a double-overtime victory in Thursday’s league tournament opener.
The eighth-seeded Tigers hit 17 of 22 from the charity stripe in two overtime periods, including 12 of 16 in the second extra session and held off No. 9 seed Texas A&M 91-83 in a second round game at the Georgia Dome.
Missouri (22-10), which will play top seed and Associated Press No. 1 Florida in today’s quarterfinals, secured an advantage as large as nine points in the second half, but led by Alex Caruso Texas A&M took its largest lead of the game at 68-64 at the two-minute mark on a three from the sophomore guard.
After coming into game averaging just 8.6 points, Caruso had 22 points in regulation and finished with a game-high 28 points.
Neither team hit another field goal during regulation after Caruso’s fifth and final three of the game. Missouri sent the game into overtime on two free throws each from Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown. A&M’s attempt at a potential go-ahead bucket came with 16 seconds left when Kourtney Roberson missed a long jumper, then Missouri turned the ball over with four seconds to play.
In the first overtime, the Tigers again held a more-than one possession lead at 76-71 after Brown hit two more free throws. Caruso and Roberson each went 2 of 2 from the stripe, getting the Aggies to within 77-75 with just under 12 seconds to play.
Blake McDonald played just two minutes all day, but he had a huge steal off an inbounds play, and Caruso’s lay up with eight seconds left evened things up at 77-77.
The game was tied at 79-79 in the second overtime when Missouri had a game-changing possession. Earnest Ross made 1 of 2 free throws, and on the miss, Johnathan Williams rebounded twice and converted a lay up to put the Tigers ahead 82-79.
“That was a big play with the offensive rebound on the free throw,” said A&M coach Billy Kennedy.
A steal led to another two shots from the line by Ross and Missouri’s lead never fell below six points the rest of the way.
Jabari Brown, the SEC’s leading scorer, had a team-high 26 points before fouling out with 53 seconds left in the first overtime. Less than a minute into the second overtime, Jordan Clarkson, seventh in the league in scoring, (though he scored just 12 points on 3 of 8 shooting), also fouled out.
“That’s on us to finish the game with either of their two best players (not) in the game,” said Caruso.
There were seven lead changes within the first nine minutes, but Ross’ 3-pointer at the 10:52 mark put Missouri up for the remainder of the half at 20-18.
Ross capped an 11-2 spurt with another 3-pointer and the Tigers led 28-20 with a little under seven minutes to go in the half. Ross had seven points in both of Missouri’s two previous games against A&M, including a 3-of-9 shooting performance in last year’s first round win in the conference tournament, but the senior’s 17 points helped him surpass that total by halftime Thursday.
The senior guard finished with 24 points.
A&M’s starting backcourt of Caruso and Jamal Jones (20 points) each started the game by hitting their first three shots and carried the No. 9 seed to a slim 16-14 cushion with 13 1/2 minutes to play.
The Aggies shot the ball well from the field in the early going, hitting seven of their first 12 shots. But the No. 8 seed went through a 3 1/2 minute spell without a point and missed 10 of its last 13 shots of the half.
Three more second round games ended too late for this edition: No. 5 seed Arkansas played 13th-seeded South Carolina, and in the two night session games No. 7 LSU and No. 10 Alabama and No. 6 Mississippi and No. 14 Mississppi State wrapped up the second day of the tournament.