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Tuesday’s Shootaround: Missouri survives, Pitt wins again

MIchael Dixon, Jr., Myck Kabongo

Missouri guard Michael Dixon, Jr. (11) drives around Texas guard Myck Kabongo during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)


No. 4 Missouri 67, Texas 66: I’ve said this before and I truly believe it -- the sign of a good team is that they can go on the road, play poorly and still come away with a win. That’s exactly what Missouri did on Monday night. They didn’t shoot all that well, they made poor decisions down the stretch and they blew a 10 point lead with four minutes left in the game. And they still won.

They can thank Michael Dixon for that. The nation’s second-best sparkplug (sorry, Mike, Dion Waiters still has you beat right now) finished with 21 points, hitting his first eight shots from the floor and closing out the game on a driving, left-handed layup with 31 seconds left in the game after Texas had gone on a 13-2 run to take a 66-65 lead. He doesn’t look all that smooth when he’s dribbling and his jump shot is far from what you would call textbook, but he simply gets it done. Its such a weapon for Frank Haith to be able to bring in a scorer that is that potent off the bench.

The bigger issue for the Tigers is that, for what feels like the 20th game in a row, shot poorly from the floor. Serious question: when was the last time Marcus Denmon had a good shooting game? Answer: he hasn’t shot over 50% from the floor since a January 3rd win over Oklahoma. Prior to that, the last time he was over 50% from the field was in mid-December. The Tigers have enough weapons to get by when he’s not shooting well -- especially when he is able to get to the line and knock down his free throws -- but if the Tigers are going to be a threat in March, they need their star to find that rhythm again.

Pitt 72, West Virginia 66: What a difference a Tray makes.

(That was bad.)

In all seriousness, with a healthy Tray Woodall in the mix, Pitt is a different basketball team. He had 24 points, four boards and three assists to pace the Panthers as they won their third straight game. I hate to harp on this same point, but it cannot be overstated. With Woodall handling the ball, it allows Ashton Gibbs to move off of the ball full-time. Defenses have to key on him running off of screen after screen, which opens up penetration lanes for Woodall and allows guys like Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson a chance to showcase their versatility. I’d put money on Pitt making a run to the NCAA Tournament down the stretch of the season.

For West Virginia, this is their third straight loss. They were blown out by St. John’s on the road and lost at Syracuse by two points, both of which were “acceptable” losses. The Johnnies like to press, which throws off a team like WVU that doesn’t have great point guard play, and Syracuse is Syracuse. But the inability to defend their home court, particularly against a rival, makes this three game losing streak a major concern.

Penn 82, Princeton 67: Penn got 28 points and five assists from Zack Rosen, one of the nation’s most underrated stars, as they were able to keep pace with Harvard in the Ivy standings (Penn is now 3-0 in the league while Harvard sits at 4-0). They loss drops the Tigers two games off the pace and, for better or worse, out of contention for a league title.

Other notable scores:

- Mississippi Valley State 77, Grambling State 59
- Belmont 83, North Florida 69

Top performers:

Kevin Murphy, Tennessee Tech: Murphy set a school-record by scoring 50 points on Monday night, besting the 44 points that Doug McDermott had earlier this season. Murphy went 16-21 from the floor, 6-9 from three and 12-14 from the line.

Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State: O’Quinn went for 27 points and 18 boards, but Norfolk State lost their first game in MEAC play 87-82 to Coppin State. This was one of the weirder box scores you’ll ever see. NSU lost despite scoring 69 points in the second half. How? They were down 35-13 at the break.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.