MIZZOU HOPES FOR LESSONS LEARNED AFTER CLOSE LOSS TO OLE MISS
The Missouri Tigers followed the same script. Tweak a few things — and just like nearly all their SEC road games — the end result was nearly identical.
After a strong start to the second half, Mizzou tied the score against Ole Miss, coming back from a 15-point deficit. Then the Tigers allowed the Rebels to score a few baskets. Then once the Tigers got close again, Mississippi pulled away for the victory on Wednesday at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
The Tigers battled in their road losses to Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. In away defeats to West Virginia and Texas A&M, Mizzou was blown out by the final buzzer but showed fight to close the gap earlier in the games.
Add Mizzou’s 75-67 loss to the Rebels as the latest similar defeat. The Tigers (14-16, 6-11 SEC) fell to 11th place in the conference — meaning they’re slated to play in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee.
“You have to make shots and make plays,” Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Those are the big differences late in games, whether you’re on the road. Players step up and make plays. … We didn’t capitalize. I thought we had great opportunities, just didn’t capitalize.”
The Tigers have displayed some ability to finish at the end of games, but those performances came at Mizzou Arena. The 20-point comeback victory over Georgia and the overtime win against Arkansas showcased how the Tigers can finish down the stretch.
But aside from a road win over last place Vanderbilt, the Tigers were shut out, finishing 1-8 in SEC road games.
“You learn and you grow from it,” Martin said. “For us, it’s the consistency. Off to a slow start in the first half. Carrying the scouting report from start to finish each game. Being able to make shots.”
There were careless mistakes near the end. Late turnovers by Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson wasted some possessions. Missed shots and opportunities were also a culprit as Martin pointed out.
But there is value in the shortcomings — and the reps.
“It’ll pay off in the end,” Pinson said. “When it matters and it counts, it’ll pay off.”
Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree flipped a switch on his Senior Night, right when his team needed it most. After a slow start, Tyree finished with 13 of his 19 points in the second half.
On the other side, the Tigers are still a young team. They feature one senior, forward Reed Nikko, who has shined as a role player in recent weeks, but isn’t relied upon on every possession.
Their best playmakers — like Jeremiah Tilmon, Dru Smith and Mark Smith — are still juniors. They can still take a major step as a senior, much like Nikko has done this year.
Mix in the underclassmen playing major minutes in Pinson, Kobe Brown and others, a learning curve is combined with growing pains.
While the losses pile up, there are useful possessions late in the game on the road — the teaching moments that can’t be replicated in practice.
“We can’t let the refs get in our head, we can’t let nobody get in our head,” Tilmon said. “We just gotta go out there, one through five, and just play basketball. Just stay locked in. That’s our biggest thing.”
Mizzou has one last chance to finish its season with a splash. The Tigers host Alabama at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Mizzou Arena for Senior Day. While postseason play is unlikely, they still hope to finish the season strong.
“It just takes experience,” Tilmon said. “Just playing games and getting reps.”