BATON ROUGE, La. — The ball rimmed out, and the crowd groaned as Missouri guard Earnest Ross corralled the ball with 49 seconds left. The Tigers would have a chance to win this game, after all.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Louisiana State led No. 17 Missouri by three at that point, but given all Missouri had been through in this game — overcoming another sluggish start on the road, a 16-point deficit at one point — it almost seemed like this one was destined for overtime. All Missouri needed was a basket, something to keep the momentum on its side against the worst team in the Southeastern Conference.
Only, disaster struck — and it was not in an unfamiliar way. Another quick shot, this time by junior point guard Phil Pressey, who hoisted the kind of hurried three that Missouri coach Frank Haith has been trying to wean his team off of for weeks. Another miss.
Another road loss.
“We were driving the ball, and we needed to keep driving the ball,” said Haith, whose team fell to LSU 73-70. “So much time in the game … we said that in the timeout.”
But to Haith, that possession — while clearly distressing — was indicative of a larger problem for the Tigers, who once again took too many quick shots on the road despite their coach’s pleas before a crowd of 8,804 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The loss is Missouri’s third straight on the road in SEC play and follows blowout defeats to Florida (83-52) in Gainesville on Jan. 19 and Mississippi (64-49) in Oxford on Jan. 12, games in which the Tigers also struggled offensively. But while both those teams are ranked, there’s no cushioning the fact the Tigers fell to an LSU team that improved to 11-7 (2-5 in the SEC) but entered the game dead last in the conference standings.
“We’re not a great listening team right now,” Haith said of his team, which went 23 of 61 (37.7 percent) from the field on Wednesday. “That’s something we’ve got to get better at. Guys are tending to do their own thing when the games get tight or when there’s adversity. We have to somehow become a better listening team.”
Also a point of contention for Haith was the way the Tigers started the game. Much like it was against Florida and Mississippi, Missouri was sluggish out of the gate, as it struggled to find open shots against LSU’s tight on-ball defense. By halftime, the Tigers were shooting 26.9 percent from the field and found themselves in a 39-26 halftime deficit.
“We shot quickly, again, and our transition defense was very poor,” Haith said of his team’s first-half effort.
Missouri, however, did not wilt in the second half. Led by Pressey, who scored eight of his game-high 25 points during a 16-7 run to open the half, MU managed to fight its way back into the game and cut its deficit to 46-42 with 13 minutes, 41 seconds remaining.
The game was close the rest of the way, with Missouri even cutting its deficit to two — 65-63 — when sophomore guard Jabari Brown (19 points) drilled a three from the corner with one minute, five seconds left.
LSU guard Anthony Hickey (20 points) then split a pair of free throws, making the score 66-63, but Pressey’s aforementioned three, which came only seven seconds after Ross’ rebound, rimmed out, and LSU guard Andre Stringer (18 points) promptly made two free throws, giving his team a 68-63 lead with 38.5 seconds left.
The Tigers answered with another quick three from the corner, this one by Ross, that cut the deficit back to two. LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant scored on two consecutive possessions, only to see Pressey answer with a layup each time, the second of which was followed by Haith calling his final timeout with 14.6 seconds left, presumably to set up his defense with MU trailing 72-70.
LSU’s Shavon Coleman was somehow left open and fouled, though he kept Missouri alive by splitting a pair of free throws. Missouri, however, could not take advantage, as Pressey hoisted and missed a wild, potential game-tying three with a little less than ten seconds left.
Coleman almost bailed Missouri out again by missing two free throws in the waning seconds that could have iced the game, but the Tigers, who were out of timeouts and got the ball back with about four seconds left, could not even get a shot off, as the clock ran out before Ross could streak upcourt and hoist a shot.
Brown (19 points) and senior forward Laurence Bowers, who scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds after missing Missouri’s previous five games with a sprained MCL in his right knee, joined Pressey in double-digit scoring for Missouri, which drops to 15-5 overall and 4-3 in the SEC and is now 0-3 on the road in SEC play.
“It’s all about trust,” said Haith, who was clearly frustrated with his team’s offensive execution. “You’re taking quick shots, you’re not executing what we want you to execute. We don’t need guys trying to be … just run the offense, that’s all we want you to do. Just run the offense.”