Laurence Bowers eyed the rim, set his feet and released that oh-so-smooth jumper. And as the basketball dropped through the basket, for an instant, it seemed like Missouri might finally do it.
Bowers’ three-pointer with 50.8 seconds left stunned the crowd of Reed Arena, giving a Missouri team that once trailed by double-digits a one-point lead over Texas A&M. The Tigers were making a bid to win their first game on the road all season, and again, for an instant, Thursday seemed like as good a time as any.
Unfortunately for Missouri, some of the issues that have plagued the Tigers on the road eventually reared their ugly heads in a gut-wrenching, painful 70-68 loss to the Aggies at Reed Arena.
“I’m not going to lie to you, this one hurt,” said senior forward Alex Oriakhi, who finished with a team-high 15 points. “This one hurt really bad.”
Probably because they came so close. While the Tigers fell behind by as many as 13 in the first half due to another slow start — a staple of their road woes — Missouri clawed back to cut its halftime deficit to 36-30. Much of this had to do with the play of Oriakhi, who bucked his recent trend of poor performances away from Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers also seemed to settle for fewer quick shots, something coach Frank Haith has been preaching for weeks. It came in handy in the second half, when the Tigers, who trailed 52-37 with 14 minutes left after an onslaught of baskets by A&M big men Kourtney Roberson and Ray Turner, managed to fight their way back into the game by driving to the basket and getting to the free-throw line (they finished 22 of 24 from the charity stripe).
“They were physical and aggressive, so what you can’t do is be passive,” Haith said. “We wanted our guys to continue to drive the ball and be aggressive.”
But with Missouri trailing 61-52 (and still in position to mount a comeback) another road problem arose: Oriakhi’s temper. With a little over six minutes left, Oriakhi was whistled for a loose-ball foul when he got tangled up with Texas A&M guard Fabyon Harris. Oriakhi was then whistled for a technical foul when he shoved Aggie forward Alex Caruso, who approached him moments later.
“I try not to (get angry) but when I’m getting rebounds, I’m getting demolished down there,” Oriakhi said. “I feel like just because I’m the biggest guy, the refs let the other team get away with stuff. I’m trying to get an offensive rebound and I’ve got three guys hitting me, it’s very frustrating out there.
“It’s just a natural reaction. I just feel like they don’t call it even sometimes.”
Oriakhi was sent to the bench with his fourth foul, but A&M could not take advantage, as the Aggies began to fall apart, and Missouri continued to surge. The Tigers cut their deficit to 63-59, and junior guard Phil Pressey eventually made two straight baskets to tie the game at 63-63.
After both teams traded baskets to make the score 65-65 with a little under two minutes left, Texas A&M guard Elston Turner made a long jumper to give A&M a 67-65 lead, only to see senior forward Bowers drill his clutch three from the corner that give Missouri a 68-67 lead with 50.8 seconds left.
The Tigers responded with a big stop on defense, as Pressey corralled a loose ball and sped up court. But another road problem (Pressey playing under control) came back to bite the Tigers. Pressey turned it over immediately with a wild pass that gave the Aggies the ball back with about 24 seconds left on the clock.
Given one last chance to clean up its mess, Texas A&M didn’t waste it this time, as Harris drilled a long three to put A&M ahead 70-68 with 11 seconds left.
“It was a pindown screen, and I saw Phil and Keion (Bell) on two guys,” Oriakhi said. “I saw the short guard (Harris) and I knew he would be open. I tried to tell Tony but it was just too late and he was wide open. The only I could do is pray that he missed the shot, and he made a tough shot.”
Pressey sped downcourt and missed a three-pointer that Bell corralled for a rebound, but his putback attempt was blocked, and A&M held on for the win.
“He got fouled, of course, and refs didn’t call it,” Oriakhi said of Bell.
Harris led A&M with 17 points, while Elston Turner (15 points), Roberson (14 points) and Ray Turner (12 points) all scored in double figures for the Aggies, who improve to 14-8, 6-3 in the SEC.
Pressey (13 points), Bell (12 points) and sophomore guard Jabari Brown (11 points) also scored in double figures for Missouri, which drops to 16-6, 5-4 in the SEC and won’t have much time to lick its wounds.
The Tigers play host to Mississippi at noon on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“It’s tough, but nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” Oriakhi said. “Ole Miss, they could care less than we just lost. It’s going to hurt tonight, but tomorrow, it’s a new day. Nobody is going to pity us, so we can’t pity ourselves. We have another fight.”