By: Isaac Gillen, KCOU Sports
It was the best of times and it was the worst of times for the Missouri Tigers today. As they faced their SEC rival Arkansas Razorbacks in Mizzou Arena. Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson made his third return trip to Mizzou Arena since leaving the Tigers after the 2010-2011 campaign to take his dream job as Arkansas’ head coach. Mizzou pulled out a one point victory in his last visit to Columbia, but was on the wrong end of a one point game this go around.
This was the highest attended home game for the Tigers this season. The fans were brought to their feet a multitude of times as the Tigers fought valiantly to take the lead throughout the game. The rivalry feel was in the air and it was everything both teams’ fans could ask for in a game that came down to the wire.
The Tigers took the lead right before halftime on an basket-and-1 from freshmen Montaque Gill-Caesar. Gill-Caesar and sophomore Johnathan Williams III led the Tigers in scoring with 11 apiece heading into halftime with a 34-30 lead. The Tigers football was presented with the Battle Line Rivalry Trophy they earned for defeating Arkansas in November. But the basketball team couldn’t feed on the momentum from receiving the trophy.
The Tigers came out of the half flat and Arkansas began hitting their shots and getting to the line. Mizzou fouled 3-point shooters on two different occasions. Wes Clark began to take over the Mizzou offense with under six minutes to go. He shake and baked his way past two defenders for jump shots and scored six unanswered points to pull the Tigers back to within two with 4:50 to play.
Gill-Caesar hit a big 3 with 2:05 to play (he was 3-3 from behind the arc on the day) and led the Tigers in scoring with 16 points. The biggest play of the game Clark drove from the left wing and got to his usual 12 foot spot, pulled up and drew a foul on Arkansas’ Bobby Portis. He went to the line with a chance to sink 2 free throws and win the game for the Tigers. With 3.3 seconds remaining Arkansas coach Mike Anderson called a timeout before Clark could shoot either of his free throws. Arkansas fans were yelling, “Choke!” from the nosebleeds, and perhaps it got to the sophomore guard’s head. He missed both free throws and Arkansas secured the rebound and the victory, 61-60.
Mizzou’s young core played extremely well together. The defense and rebounding was there throughout the game. The Tigers held the Razorbacks to 36.5% shooting from the field and just 61 points. That’s pretty good for a team that was averaging 83.5 points per game prior to today’s contest. The offense continues to struggle without much of a post presence.
Another step in the right direction for Kim Anderson’s young team, it is clearly apparent that Williams III and Clark have grown immensely as players from last year. A tough home loss to one of the SEC’s better teams is a good sign for this growing group of Tigers.
But there won’t be much time to dwell on the tough loss as the Tigers gear up for their next conference matchup against #1 ranked powerhouse Kentucky. The Tigers will look to do better at home than they fared on the road versus the Wildcats (86-37 L). The game tips off at 8 p.m. Thursday.