MIZ­ZOU HOPES FOR LESSONS LEARNED AF­TER CLOSE LOSS TO OLE MISS

The Kansas City Star - - Sports - BY SOUICHI TERADA ster­[email protected]­star.com Souichi Terada: 816-234-4155, @SouichiTer­ada

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.”

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