By Micah Wright
It has been a tough stretch for the Missouri Tigers following their statement 68-65 win at home against sixth-ranked Alabama on February 6. They followed that with three straight losses, the first of which came against the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford. That ugly 80-59 loss 13 days ago was the biggest loss of the year for Missouri, and it had similar offensive struggles in the rematch at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday night.
The Tigers started fast by hitting four of their first five shots, but they went on a cold streak by missing 14 of their next 17. Ole Miss pulled away to end the first half, thanks to Missouri’s eight turnovers, and it led 33-24 at the break. The Rebels outscored the Tigers by a combined 71-46 in the last two halves after the 38-22 second-half score from their first meeting.
Missouri’s defense kept it in this game, and even gave it the lead in the second half. The Rebels scored the first four points in the second half to bring their lead to 14, until the Tigers kicked their defense into gear. Ole Miss went without a field goal from the 19:12 mark to the 10:52 mark in the second half, when Jarkel Joiner hit a jump shot to end the dry spell. Missouri went on a 15-2 run to tie it up prior to that, and the Tigers took a 43-41 lead with 9:26 left for their first lead of the game.
That lead lasted a little over a minute, as Ole Miss once again locked Missouri’s offense down. The 2-3 zone, something the Tigers usually don’t struggle with, was very effective for the Rebels. Opportunities rose for Missouri as it had the ball in a 50-50 tie with a chance to take the lead, but a Tilmon turnover led to an Ole Miss layup. After Dru Smith missed two shots down the stretch, one a jumper and the other a tough three-pointer, the Rebels took advantage on offense with a KJ Buffen layup and two made free throws by Jarkel Joiner. Joiner iced the game by going 6-for-6 from the line in the final minute to seal a 60-53 win. He was one of four Rebels in double figures, and Devontae Shuler led all scorers with 14 points.
Missouri tied its season-low with 53 points, and it shot just 35.1 percent from the field. Despite allowing just 38.2 percent shooting from Ole Miss, the Tigers were never able to get things going offensively. There were a some bright spots though, as Jeremiah Tillmon notched his seventh double-double of the season with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, and Kobe Brown had another very solid game with a team-high 12 points to go with his seven rebounds.Struggling against a zone defense was surprising for this Missouri team, however.
“We’ve always had success against a zone,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Flashing, making moves, looking inside. Some of it probably had to do with some of our matchups that we had on the floor when they were in the zone. I don’t think we were aggressive in attacking. I don’t think we got enough dribble penetration.”
Missouri’s best attacker and best scorer, Xavier Pinson, had another extremely tough outing against Ole Miss. He scored just two points on 1-for-9 shooting in his 26 minutes, and he had six points on 3-for-11 from the field with four turnovers in the prior meeting.
“I didn’t think X was aggressive even though he took 9 shots. If it’s not creating for yourself you want to create for someone else,” Martin said.
Pinson had two assists and was 0-for-4 from three-point range. Mark Smith, who had 11 points and three of the team’s seven three-pointers, voiced a similar opinion.
“It was a little surprising I think just because we kept holding the ball and normally we don’t do that versus a zone,” Smith said. “When we were at their place they got out of the zone pretty fast against us.”
This loss makes it four of the last five for a Missouri team who now sit at 14-7 overall and 7-7 in SEC play. The win for Ole Miss puts it ahead of Missouri in the standings at sixth, and the loss bumps the Tigers down to seventh in conference.
Missouri will look to right the ship against Texas A&M at 5 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
Edited by Emma Moloney