Sacramento, Calif. • Missouri used a second-half scoring spurt from Kobe Brown to win its first NCAA Tournament game in 13 years, beating Utah State 76-65 on Thursday.
Brown hit three 3-pointers in a span of just over three minutes to fuel a 13-2 run that turned a two-point deficit into a 62-53 lead.
“He’s our MVP. I can tell you that,” coach Dennis Gates said. “Ultimately when he started making some shots in that second half, he immediately made eye contact. He said he’s here. I said, ‘Yes, you are. We can see.’”
The seventh-seeded Tigers (25-9) held on from there, stopping a six-game tournament skid with their first win since beating Clemson in the first round in 2010.
Missouri advanced to play the winner of the Arizona-Princeton game in the second round of the South Region.
The 10th-seeded Aggies (26-9) have dropped their last 10 tournament games since beating Ohio State in the first round in 2001. The loss was also the 11th straight for a Mountain West team in the NCAAs.
“It’s really, really, really, really, really hard to win in college basketball,” coach Ryan Odom said. “These guys did it. They won enough to get an at-large bid here. Even though we didn’t get what we wanted in terms of advancing in the tournament, the guys did what they have done all year and that’s continue to fight regardless of the circumstances.”
The game was close until Brown and D’Moi Hodge took it over midway through the second half by scoring 20 straight points for the Tigers.
“We don’t blink,” Brown said. “We felt them getting the momentum, but we couldn’t show that. If we would have showed that, things would have went a lot different.”
Brown started the stretch with a dunk, followed by three straight 3s. Hodge took over from there by hitting twice from long range around a dunk of his own.
Hodge scored 23 points for the Tigers. Brown had 19.
Taylor Funk scored 16 to lead Utah State and Steven Ashworth added 12. The Aggies shot 4 for 24 from 3-point range.
“There has to be some credit given to Missouri, their style of defense, what they like to do to teams,” Ashworth said. “At times, even if you’re getting open looks in those situations, you can be a little rushed into those shots. I think the first half we had a little bit of that. At the same time it was we just weren’t hitting the shots we normally make.”
The Aggies got off to a sloppy start with six turnovers in the first six minutes but still only trailed 35-31 at the half despite missing all 11 attempts from 3-point range.
They missed their first two from long range in the second half before Ashworth finally made a 3-pointer.
Utah State: The frustration for the Aggies was evident when they got called for a bench technical when one of the reserves argued a no-call midway through the second half. Coach Dave Odom heatedly argued the call before getting restrained by an assistant. Nick Honor missed both free throws for Missouri.
Missouri: The Tigers played without team captain Tre Gomillion, who injured his groin during the SEC tournament. If he is able to return next round, that would provide a big boost.
The Tigers will be looking to advance past the first weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2009 when they went to the Elite Eight.
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