Missouri senior Earnest Ross chucked a 30-footer at the buzzer that could have forced overtime Saturday at Tad Smith Coliseum.
It was on line too, but ultimately the shot came up short — much like the Tigers’ bid for a sixth straight NCAA Tournament berth might after a 91-88 loss to Mississippi.
Of course, the reality is that the Tigers lost the game in the first half after falling behind by 15 points.
Senior Marshall Henderson, who scorched the nets on six of eight first-half three-pointers and finished with a game-high 29 points, shot the Rebels into the lead.
However, Missouri coach Frank Haith pinned the loss squarely on his frontcourt.
“Our post guys didn’t compete,” Haith said. “I thought our post guys really didn’t bring it when we needed it in this environment with this game. I thought our other guys did.”
Haith would soften that stance a bit, saying that freshman Torren Jones provided good, aggressive minutes off the bench and that sophomore Ryan Rosburg competed well in the second half.
Still, there was no doubt Haith didn’t think Missouri’s chances should have come down to Ross’ desperation heave with 0.9 seconds left.
Neither did several Tigers.
“Some dudes didn’t come to play,” said junior Jordan Clarkson, who finished with 23 points along with five rebounds and three assists. “We told them before the game that it was going to be a tough game and it’s going to be physical. Some dudes, I guess they didn’t believe us and didn’t play to what we thought they were going to play.”
Clarkson also hinted that the problem runs much deeper.
“I think our coaches are doing a good job,” Clarkson said. “I don’t think some of the players are accepting coaching right now. That’s something we’ve got to fix right now.”
Missouri had better hope answers come quicker than they did in the first half against Mississippi, which tied a program record for three-pointers — going 14 of 29 — and won the battle on the glass 34-33 despite entering the game ranked 286th in rebounding margin at minus-3.1.
Historically, Missouri had fared well against Henderson, who was four of 11 and four of 15 in two regular-season meetings last year — including two-for-eight from long range in both games.
Henderson, who did light up the Tigers for 27 in the SEC Tournament last season, put on a show early, hitting an array of tough three-pointers — running off screens or fading away — that had the Tad Pad rocking.
He finished eight of 15 from three-point range, but he also got his teammates involved with five assists, including a 25-foot bounce pass for a transition slam by sophomore Anthony Perez and an assist off the backboard for a Perez layup in the first half.
“He’s an energy guy and plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion,” Haith said. “He’s always moving, and I think he wears his emotions on his sleeves. I think his teammates probably feed off of that. They respect him and appreciate how hard he plays.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers seemed listless before roaring back into contention by scoring 23 of the first 33 points in the second half.
Ross, who finished with 24 points and six rebounds, started the rally with a three-pointer from the left corner. He made five of a season-high 14 attempts from three-point range. Junior Jabari Brown added a three-point play as the lead was trimmed to single digits in less than two minutes.
From there, Rosburg went to work and scored eight of the Tigers’ next 11 points, including two dunks and a tip-in before Clarkson punctuated the run with a soaring right-handed jam over Henderson that prompted Andy Kennedy to burn his second timeout of the half.
By the time Brown, who scored 20 with a team-best seven rebounds, added another three-point play at the 12:38 mark, Missouri was within 60-58.
Two threes by Henderson stretched Mississippi’s lead back to 66-59, but the Tigers would have three chances to tie or take the lead before Ross’ chance at buzzer.
Missouri trailed by two with 5:31 left when Brown got off a floater in the paint, but it drew back iron.
Three minutes later, with the Tigers trailing by one, freshman Wes Clark tried a pull-up from a step inside the left elbow, but he couldn’t connect either.
With roughly two minutes remaining, junior Jordan Clarkson launched — and missed — a three-pointer that would have tied the game.
The end result was the first three-game losing streak of Haith’s tenure in a game that featured the points allowed in regulation during the Haith era.
The loss also marks the first time Missouri is two games below .500 in conference play since 2007-08.