Missouri constructed its schedule this season to provide momentum entering Wednesday’s annual Braggin’ Rights Game against Illinois at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
The Tigers wrapped up a six-game home stand Saturday that included five games against mid-major competition in hopes of building confidence before a pivotal battle with the Big Ten’s Fighting Illini.
Instead, third-year coach Kim Anderson’s team limps to the eastern reaches of the state at 5-5 overall after dropping a disheartening 67-64 decision against Eastern Illinois.
It was the second shocking loss against small-school competition during that six-game stretch, which saw Mizzou finish 3-3 after also losing to North Carolina Central and Arizona during the last month.
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The addition of junior forward Jordan Barnett — a St. Louis native and Christian Brothers College High graduate, who transferred from Texas in midseason last year — didn’t provide the expected spark.
Eastern Illinois, which had never won a road game against a Power Five opponent until upsetting Anderson’s team, overcame 14 consecutive missed three-pointers to start the game in rallying past the Tigers, who led 32-30 at halftime but continued to struggle from the field in a demoralizing loss.
“Against teams like that, we should have put it away in the first half,” said freshman forward Willie Jackson, who scored a team-high nine points with five rebounds. “The game should have been put away in the first half, which it wasn’t. The second half, it came down … to the first five minutes.”
Now, Mizzou must regroup or risk slipping below .500 and joining Oregon State, Nebraska and St. John’s as the only high-major teams with more losses than victories on the season.
Turning things around starts with simple execution.
Midway through the second half on Saturday, the Panthers took the lead on a jumper by Montell Goodwin.
Tigers sophomore point guard Terrence Phillips proceeded to turn the ball over near midcourt, then tackled Ray Crossland as he tried to collect the steal and coast in for a layup.
Two free throws and a three-pointer on Eastern Illinois’ free possession later, Mizzou trailed by seven and needed more than six minutes to make up the difference.
“We’ve made some really dumb plays, and we can’t make those plays,” Anderson said. “We can’t give away that many possessions. You can blame it on youth. You can blame it on whatever, but the bottom line is it doesn’t matter how old you are. You’ve got to know you can’t make plays like that.”
Still, the Tigers have to start making some plays.
During the final 5 1/2 minutes against Eastern Illinois, Mizzou went 2 of 12 from the field, including five straight misses to close the game in the final three minutes.
The Tigers’ offensive woes are bad enough that Anderson doesn’t feel comfortable fouling late in games for fear it will only inflate the opposing team’s lead.
He didn’t foul in a four-point game with a minute left or a three-point game with 40 seconds remaining, and also eschewed a timeout after a defensive rebound with 15 seconds to go.
“We have trouble scoring, so I didn’t want to give them more points,” Anderson said. “In the last 15 seconds, I thought we had a better chance of scoring without calling timeout. Obviously, we didn’t execute very well, but we didn’t execute very well throughout the whole game. Would I change it if I had to do it again? No. … I thought that was our best chance. Our best chance of scoring is to not let the other team get set up.”
Such is the state of Missouri basketball as it tries to find something to brag about and turn around its season.