So this is how it ends for Missouri.
A season that started with such promise — and 10 straight victories to boot — comes to a close in a consolation postseason tournament nobody really wanted to play anyway.
A court that less than three months ago featured 26 straight victories for the home team instead provides the site for the Tigers’ final loss.
Missouri bowed out in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament on Sunday, falling 71-63 to Southern Mississippi in front of a sparse but lively crowd of 6,033 at Mizzou Arena.
It was the ending few within the program expected after a 10-0 start and a national ranking. The Tigers finished 23-12.
“We were rolling through that time, so there were a lot of good vibes going through our heads at that time,” Missouri junior Jordan Clarkson said, later adding, “It’s real disappointing to see how far we came and grew as a team. It’s just disappointing.”
It may be the end of the line for Clarkson and fellow junior Jabari Brown, who will make decisions about their potential NBA futures in the coming days. Both players said Sunday they have yet to give that much thought.
Instead, they were stuck with another image of how quickly a once favorable season had spiraled downward.
An inspired Earnest Ross scored 22 points in his final college game, but it was part of a comeback effort that couldn't found its full momentum. Missouri never led after a 34-29 halftime deficit.
“At this point in time in March, any senior that's still playing college basketball, you have to be able to take the game as a last-game approach,” Ross said. “That’s what I tried to do.”
Four days after erasing a 13-point deficit for an opening-round NIT win against Davidson, the Tigers were unable to mount a similar effort against an undersized but active Southern Miss squad.
Neil Watson (18 points), Aaron Brown (16) and Michael Craig (12) were in double figures for Southern Miss, which moves on to play Minnesota in the NIT quarterfinals.
Missouri, meanwhile, stays home.
“We’re disappointed we didn't make the NCAA Tournament — we want to be in the NCAA Tournament every year,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith, who also praised his team for embracing its NIT bid. “I felt like we could have had some great things happen for us this year.”
Trying to salvage some of that positive spin, Ross led a comeback effort in the second half Sunday.
Watson, a graduate of Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kan., scored the first five points of the second half — extending the lead to double digits for the first time — before Ross scored eight points as part of a Missouri run that trimmed the lead back to three.
It would never get closer.
“I thought his last two games here, he played with tremendous heart,” Haith said. “… I thought he really competed hard today and didn't want it to end.”
It ended with a loss. It started well.
Missouri scored the first five points of the game — needing just 57 seconds to do it — but it didn’t serve as an omen. Instead, the Tigers cooled off and made only five of its next 16 shots to close out the half.
Southern Miss veered in the opposite direction, using five three-pointers to build its five-point halftime lead. Missouri guard Jabari Brown scored 10 points in the first half but only three after halftime. Jordan Clarkson also finished with 13 points.
It wasn’t enough.
Missouri lost for the eighth time in its last 15 games.
“To tell you the truth, I think most games we went out there and competed,” Clarkson said of the season. “Some teams had better game plans, made baskets and played defense and just did a better job of that, I guess.”