Much as it has many times this season, Missouri found itself leading by a decent margin late in a game.
But much as it has many times this season, the Tigers again fell apart at the end.
Derrick Millinghaus’ tear-drop floater with 1.1 seconds left Friday night sent Mississippi to a 64-62 victory in the SEC tournament quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena, overcoming a 14-point second half lead by the Tigers.
Missouri had a chance to win before Millinghaus’ shot, but Laurence Bowers — who was inbounding the ball — overshot Keion Bell, and Mississippi stole it.
Before that, the Tigers put the ball in the hands of point guard Phil Pressey, who has committed a crucial turnover or missed a late jumper in all six of Missouri’s road losses this season.
This time though, Pressey delivered with a three-pointer that gave Missouri a 62-59 lead with less than a minute to play. Millinghaus, however, answered with a three that tied the score 62-62 with 29 seconds left, setting up the final sequence.
After Millinghaus — who finished with 11 points and was only in the game because starting point guard Jarvis Summers suffered a head injury in the second half — gave Mississippi the lead, he picked off Missouri’s ensuing inbounds pass and the buzzer sounded.
“We didn’t finish the game how we wanted,” Pressey said. “We have to get stops at the end of the game to win games like that.”
Missouri had a chance to put the game away, pounding the ball down low in the second half. The Tigers scored their first eight points of the half either in the paint or at the free-throw line, and Pressey added a spot-up three that gave MU a 42-30 lead at the under-16 timeout.
But Mississippi wasn’t out of it yet, as combustible guard Marshall Henderson — who finished with a game-high 27 points — began to heat up. He drilled three free throws, then followed with a three that cut the deficit to six with 14 minutes, 23 seconds left.
The Tigers, however, answered after a timeout. Jabari Brown drilled a deep, contested three from the corner, and Earnest Ross hauled in an offensive rebound for a putback. Ross added a pair of free throws and Missouri led 49-36.
Henderson made a three and a jumper, then his two free throws made it 51-43 Missouri with 11:23 left.
Pressey scored Missouri’s next five points, via a layup and a long three-pointer, and MU took a 56-46 lead into the under-eight timeout. But over the next 3 1/2 minutes, Mississippi put together a 9-1 run that cut the Tigers’ lead to 57-55 with 3:25 left.
Ross traveled on MU’s next possession.
The Tigers then had a chance to make it a two-possession game after Henderson saw a long three-pointer rim out. But Missouri was whistled for an over-the-back foul on the offensive end, which sent Henderson to the line for two free throws that tied the game at 59-59 with one minute, eight seconds left.
“I feel like we got some great looks at the end, we just didn’t knock them down,” Pressey said. “But it all comes back to defense.”
Indeed. Pressey then drilled what could have been the game-winning three, only to see the Tigers turn in three disastrous possessions in a row, with Millinghaus scoring two crucial buckets.
Both teams opened the game slow, perhaps due to a bout of nerves. Each team took turns missing shots until Henderson drilled a three-pointer three minutes in. But Missouri quickly heated up with an 8-0 run in which every point was scored in the paint.
The Tigers then saw their lead dissipate, largely because of Mississippi’s rebounding. The Rebels took an 11-10 lead with a little under 12 minutes left with the help of seven second-chance points.
Missouri fought back, however, behind senior forwards Alex Oriakhi and Bowers, who teamed up to score nine of Missouri’s next 12 points as the Tigers jumped out to a 22-13 lead with 6:33 left.
Oriakhi continued to dominate down low, adding two more baskets before he left the game with a little over two minutes left because of an apparent lower leg injury. Oriakhi, who finished with a team-high 16 points and nine rebounds, returned to start the second half.
At halftime, Ross had eight points while Brown and Bowers — who had to sit for sizable chunks of the half because of two fouls — each had five points.
Missouri, 23-10, lost despite outrebounding Mississippi 47-35. The Tigers, however, committed 16 turnovers to the Rebels’ seven, and that ultimately contributed to the comeback, particularly Millinghaus’ devastating steal at the end that led to the game-winning basket.
“Obviously, it was a tough play but it could have happened to anybody,” said Oriakhi, whose Tigers await their seeding in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. “We just have to move forward.”
Mississippi, 24-8, will play 10th-seeded Vanderbilt — which upset Kentucky on Friday — at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the SEC semifinals.