COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)Dru Smith scored 17 and Mark Smith 13 as No. 20 Missouri snapped a three-game losing streak with a 93-78 victory over struggling South Carolina on Saturday.
The Tigers (14-6, 7-6 Southeastern Conference) opened up a 19-point lead in the first half and stayed comfortably in front the rest of the way to sweep the Gamecocks (5-11, 3-9), who lost their fifth consecutive game.
The Smiths, unrelated senior starters, powered Missouri’s game-changing 25-12 run in the opening half.
After Trae Hannibal’s second straight 3-pointer drew South Carolina to within 20-17 with 11 minutes left in the half, Mark Smith started the surge with 3 and Dru Smith followed with another from long distance.
By the time Dru Smith hit another 3 six minutes later, the Tigers were up 38-23 and cruising.
South Carolina rallied in the second half to slice its deficit to 59-52 on Justin Minaya’s basket with 10 minutes left.
Then the Smiths got going once more, with Mark scoring seven points and Dru four as the Tigers stretched the margin back to 73-56.
The Gamecocks could not respond.
Missouri finished with five players in double figures. Jeremiah Tilmon had 17 points, Xavier Pinson had 16 points and Kobe Brown 12, all in the opening half.
AJ Lawson had a game-high 22 points to lead South Carolina.
Missouri was contending for one of the top seeds – and the double-bye that comes with it – in the SEC Tournament before its three-game losing streak.
The Tigers’ defense played a big role early on as South Carolina, 12th in league shooting percentage, went 1 of 12 during one stretch. The Gamecocks had missed seven straight when Lawson nailed a 30-footer at the buzzer to give Missouri a 45-29 lead at the half.
THE BIG PICTURE
Missouri: The Tigers had been one of the SEC’s strongest teams before their losing streak. They played that way again. If the Smiths can continue hitting from the outside while Tilmon and Brown control the middle, they’ll be difficult to beat.
South Carolina: It’s been a true struggle for the Gamecocks to find consistency. Beyond Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant, South Carolina hasn’t had a third scoring option to count on. It hasn’t helped that point guard Jermaine Couisnard was out for a second straight game.
Missouri will face Mississippi at home Tuesday night.
South Carolina heads to Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
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