By Ben Greenberger
The Missouri Tigers saw their season come to an end tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, falling to the Oklahoma Sooners in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by a score of 72-68.
The Tigers got strong performances out of Dru Smith (20 points, 3 steals, 2 assists) and Jeremiah Tilmon (16 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks). Oklahoma was paced all night long by the hot-shooting duo of Austin Reaves and Brady Manek. The two combined for 42 of the Sooners’ 72 points, and shot a combined 12-29 from the floor, 6-12 from three, and 12-14 from the line.
This game was extremely back and forth from the jump. The Tigers had a strong first half, leading at one point by seven, but Oklahoma was able to claw back before the break. The score was 27-26 at halftime. The second half was a lot of punch, counterpunch. Oklahoma led almost the entire way, but could never put the Tigers out of reach. The Sooners grabbed an eight point lead with two minutes to go, but Mizzou was still able to hit shots down the stretch and make it a close game.
It all came down to the last possession of the game in this one. The Tigers were able to regain possession with 15 seconds to go, down by three points. They were out of timeouts, so Cuonzo Martin had to try and direct his troops on the fly. It was a very disorganized possession, though, and resulted in Drew Buggs being intentionally fouled with 2.5 seconds left. The Tigers were in the double bonus.
Buggs made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but the rebound fell right into the hands of Oklahoma’s Jalen Hill. Hill was fouled, made both his free throws, and ended the night and season for the Tigers.
One thing that was interesting was the fact that Xavier Pinson saw very limited action in the game. Despite starting, he only saw 18 minutes on the floor, scoring only two points with five assists. He was not on the floor for the fateful last possession, which was a focus on Cuonzo Martin’s postgame questions. Martin told reporters that he felt Buggs had done a better job executing the offense and a much better job defending. Pinson’s deep shot ability in such a crucial part of the game leaves Mizzou fans scratching their heads.
The Tigers finish the season 16-10. They were 9-9 in SEC play. They had several marquee wins on the year, notably over #1 tournament seed Illinois, #2 seed Alabama, and #3 seed Arkansas, but ultimately were unable to make a deep run. They peaked at #10 in the AP poll, and finish the year losing six out of their last nine games.
Mizzou seniors include Dru Smith, Drew Buggs, Jeremiah Tilmon, Mark Smith, and Mitchell Smith. They will all have the option to return due to COVID guidelines put in place by the NCAA.
All in all, 2020-21 was a very frustrating end to a season that showed so much potential. Coach Martin and the Tigers will get back to the drawing board once they know who’s leaving and who’s staying, and prepare for next season.
Edited by Tyler Kading