Missouri set another dubious record Wednesday with a season-ending 63-54 loss against South Carolina in the opening round of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
The Tigers finished 9-23 overall, setting the program’s all-time record for most losses in a season.
It’s only the third time Missouri has lost 20 games or more, joining the dark days of 1965-67 when the Tigers went 3-21 and 3-22 in back-to-back seasons under Bob Vanatta before Norm Stewart’s arrival.
Unsurprisingly, first-year coach Kim Anderson, his staff and his players are going to take some time off, get a chance to decompress and rest mentally as well as physically.
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“We’re going to breathe,” Anderson said. “You know, this has been a tough year. Anytime you don’t win games, it’s a tough year. We have had our share of issues. We have had our share of challenges. I think that it will be good for us to step away for, not for a long time, but a week or so and maybe get our batteries recharged, both as players and as coaches.”
The Tigers endured the longest losing streak in program history, a 13-game slide in SEC play, before picking up two wins in the final four games of the regular season.
But Missouri was unable to extend its season — and perhaps seize a small measure of momentum entering the offseason — against South Carolina.
Anderson tried to strike an upbeat pose despite the loss.
“This may sound crazy, (but) I was real proud of my guys,” he said. “I thought we played extremely hard. Obviously, we made too many mistakes at critical times. … But by and large, I thought our effort was good. Our execution wasn’t very good sometimes.”
Missouri’s struggles against South Carolina mirrored the seasonlong difficulties.
The Tigers’ offense was inefficient and ineffective.
Missouri shot 36 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three-point range. Those struggles were further compounded by 16 turnovers.
Missouri trailed only 54-51 when sophomore Johnathan Williams III hit one of two free throws with 5:58 remaining.
The Tigers didn’t score again until Williams splashed in a cosmetic three-pointer with 8 seconds remaining. Such scoring droughts were commonplace throughout the season.
“It was familiar,” junior forward Ryan Rosburg said. “We were close and kind of just needed to make plays at certain times that we didn’t.”
Missouri failed to score 80 points in a game for the first time since 1951-52 and shot 40.3 percent from the field as a team, the program’s worst performance since the 1966-67 squad collectively shot 37 percent.
The best Anderson can hope for is that a roster featuring five freshmen and two sophomores with prominent roles learned from the struggles and will grow stronger as a result.
“I learned how to play the game in a different way,” freshman guard Montaque Gill-Caesar said. “I learned how to slow down. I learned how to read the game a little bit better. I learned I have to work a little bit harder on different things — on shooting, on defense, on watching film, just everything. So, I think that I grew a lot as a player. I think we all grew a lot as individuals this season. I think we took a lot away from this season.”
Missouri fans certainly hope so.