Missouri gets crushed 72-45 at Tennessee, likely bursting its NCAA tourney bubble

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03/09/2014 7:06 PM

05/16/2014 12:27 PM

Even from more than 700 miles away, the sound of Missouri’s NCAA Tournament bubble bursting could be heard loud and clear Saturday after a sluggish 72-45 loss at Tennessee.

Missouri, 21-10 overall and 9-9 in the Southeastern Conference, was a nonfactor after the opening 7 minutes as its recent cold-shooting trend continued.

“They were just better than us today, and they proved it,” said junior Jordan Clarkson, who scored 13 points and was Missouri’s only player in double figures. “They outplayed us. They blew us out. There’s not much you can say really.”

The 27-point loss was the worst of the season for the Tigers. Missouri’s 45 points were the fewest since a 45-42 win against DePaul in the first round of the Maui Invitational on Nov. 24, 1997.

It also equals the fewest points the Tigers have scored in the shot-clock era. The last time Missouri scored fewer than 45 was Feb. 9, 1982, in a 42-41 win at Kansas.

“We were getting some great shots,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith, whose team shot a season-worst 31.8 percent. “I don’t know if we got great shots all night, but when we did get good looks, we didn’t make them.”

Meanwhile, the Volunteers, 20-11 and 11-7 in the SEC, dominated the boards 45-28, including a whopping 18 offensive rebounds that led to a 15-6 edge in second-chance points. That is the most offensive rebounds the Tigers have allowed this season.

“That was the difference, and we knew that was a the key to the game,” Haith said. “They had 18 offensive and 15 second-chance points. That can’t be right. It seems like they had more (second-chance points) than that.”

The distasteful regular-season finale — which wrapped up with a Volunteers’ dunking clinic during the closing minutes — was made worse by Arkansas’ no-show at Alabama.

With a win, Missouri would have secured the No. 4 seed and a double bye at the SEC Tournament, which begins Wednesday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, thanks to the Razorbacks’ 83-58 loss against the Crimson Tide.

Instead, Missouri slid down to the No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 seed Texas A&M at noon Thursday in the second round of the conference tourney. The Tigers nipped the Aggies 57-56 on Wednesday in their only meeting this season.

“Anything can happen,” Haith said. “We’re going to coach our guys up. We’re going to get them ready to go compete next week.”

Of course, with the nation’s top-ranked team in Florida, who rolled through the SEC undefeated, waiting in the quarterfinals, it’s hard to envision the Tigers heating up enough to win the tourney.

And that might be the only hope Missouri has left to reach a school-record sixth straight NCAA Tournament.

Against the Volunteers, the Tigers’ big three — Clarkson, senior Earnest Ross and junior Jabari Brown — were a combined six of 28 from the field and misfired on all 11 three-pointers.

“That makes it hard for us when those guys don’t shoot it well,” Haith said.

Missouri also committed 11 turnovers with only five assists, while Tennessee, which is unbeaten in March with an average margin of victory of 31 points, finished with 18 assists and only eight turnovers.

The Volunteers picked up assists on its first eight baskets, which got the 18,519 at Thompson-Bolig Arena, the season’s largest crowd, engaged early.

Tennessee led 37-19 at halftime thanks to a pair of lengthy scoring droughts by Missouri, which set a new season-low for fewest points in the first half.

The Tigers managed only three points during a 10-minute stretch in the first half. Only a three-point play by Clarkson broke up droughts of 4:21 and 5:16.

During the second half, the Tigers pulled as close as 14 points in the second half on a pair of free throws by sophomore Ryan Rosburg at the 17:25 mark, but the Volunteers answered with a 10-0 run and never led by fewer than 22 in the final 15:42.

“It’s embarrassing, getting blown out,” Clarkson said. “But we’ve just got to go out in this (SEC) tournament and forget about all that happened in the regular season really. We have to look at it as a new season.”

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