It was better than the result at Kentucky, but Missouri was no less disappointed Saturday after its 59-51 loss against Tennessee at Mizzou Arena.
“We prepare to win every game, so every loss hurts pretty much the same,” said Tigers freshman Namon Wright, who scored a team-high 13 points and added four rebounds.
Missouri, 7-10 and 1-3 in the SEC, had suffered the third-worst defeat in program history four days earlier, losing to the Wildcats by 49 points at Rupp Arena.
But that didn’t make dropping a tight affair Saturday — neither team led by more than eight points — with the Volunteers any easier to swallow.
“I’m not sure what positive I would take out of this, other than I thought our effort was really good coming off of Kentucky,” first-year Tigers coach Kim Anderson said. “It’s a disappointing loss to be honest with you, a really disappointing loss.”
Missouri has matched its worst start to a season since the 1978-79 season.
Against Tennessee, it was self-inflicted wounds that proved crushing.
With the game tied at 46-46 coming out of a timeout with 3:33 remaining, the Tigers committed turnovers on three straight possessions.
Tennessee, which went 18 of 20 at the free-throw line, compared to three of six for Missouri, punished each miscue.
Seconds after inbounding the ball with a chance to take the lead, Missouri freshman guard Tramaine Isabell lobbed a pass out of bounds. Junior Armani Moore, who finished with game highs of 15 points and 11 rebounds, put the Vols in front with a layup.
Moore then stripped Tigers sophomore Johnathan Williams III in the paint on MU’s next possession, leading to Derek Reese’s putback of his own miss at the other end for Tennessee.
Another Isabell turnover followed, and Robert Hubbs III’s thunderous dunk punctuated the game-changing sequence.
“I really thought we handled the pressure part of it … pretty well until the end,” Anderson said. “Then, we got the ball at the wrong place in the wrong guy’s hands and turned it over.”
Wright stopped the bleeding with a three-pointer, but Tennessee, 11-5 and 3-1 in the SEC, pulled away at the free-throw line in the final 1:12.
Tennessee senior Josh Richardson, who scored a season-low eight points, and junior Kevin Punter combined to hit seven of eight free throws down the stretch.
Punter — who originally committed to Missouri from State Fair Community College last April but later switched when Frank Haith bolted for Tulsa — scored 12 for Tennessee.
The Tigers started the game three of 14 from three-point range before nearly shooting to victory from long range against the Vols’ zone.
A season-best crowd of 10,359 rose to its feet and roared when sophomore Wes Clark shoveled the ball back to senior Keith Shamburger for a three-pointer from the right wing in transition. The bucket cut Tennessee’s lead to 39-38 with 9:16 remaining.
Isabell, who sat out the first half but finished with eight points in 13 minutes, knotted the game with a three of his own. Clark followed with another bomb from the right wing for Missouri’s first lead of the second half.
But the lead didn’t old for the Tigers, who went 20 of 55 overall from the field (36.4 percent).
“I thought we had great looks, early especially,” Anderson said. “I thought we missed some shots early. I didn’t think the zone early on was hurting us … (but) it was effective for the whole game. It keeps the possessions down and stuff, but I really felt like we got some good shots. We just didn’t make them.”
Missouri only trailed 26-24 at halftime despite shooting 29.4 percent from the field. The Tigers started the game two of 12 and never found a rhythm on offense.
Missouri’s leading scorer, Williams only attempted one shot in the second half and finished with eight points on four-of-nine shooting with six rebounds and four turnovers.