It was only a matter of time, really. For all of the Missouri Tigers’ size and talent, their Achilles’ heels — their quick, ill-advised shots and random defensive lapses — always loomed, ready to derail the team’s potential.
One of those issues — the defense — failed Missouri on Thursday night as the ninth-seeded Tigers lost 84-72 to eighth-seeded Colorado State in their NCAA Tournament opener before a crowd of 16,632 at Rupp Arena.
The loss marked the third straight season the Tigers, 23-11, were knocked out in their NCAA Tournament opener. Missouri lost as a No. 2 seed to 15th-seeded Norfolk State last season and fell as a No. 11 seed to sixth-seeded Cincinnati the year before.
“It was just effort, man,” fifth-year senior forward Laurence Bowers said. “They just outworked us and we knew that was the type of team they were. And we’re going home now.”
Missouri only committed five turnovers and shot a respectable 42 percent from the field, but Colorado State exploited the Tigers on defense with a number of screens and cuts to the basket. Colorado State shot 49 percent from the field (25 for 51) and also outrebounded the Tigers 42-19.
“We didn’t block them out,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “They were going to go hard, they were going to be aggressive and they’re going to push and shove and they’re good, that’s what they do. We didn’t hold our ground.”
Missouri trailed the entire second half — though the Tigers cut the deficit to four at one point — and it was clear from the tipoff that Colorado State, which starts five seniors, was ready to play.
The Rams surged to a 15-5 first-half lead. While they looked disciplined and steady, the Tigers took quick jump shots and repeatedly allowed open jumpers in the half-court.
“In these type of settings, you have to come out with energy,” MU junior guard Phil Pressey said. “The team that has the most energy usually sets the tone. They really came out and brought it to us.”
By the time Colorado State took a 20-12 lead into the under-12 timeout, the Rams were outrebounding Missouri 10-2. Pressey was zero for four from the field and sophomore guard Jabari Brown had already picked up his second foul.
Missouri got a break when Colorado State’s star 6-foot-10 center Colton Iverson — who averages almost 15 points and 10 rebounds a game — picked up his second foul with 10 minutes left and was sent to the bench for the rest of the half.
Tigers center Alex Oriakhi, who was being outrebounded 5-0 by Iverson at that point, scored eight points in the last 10 minutes of the half. Pressey drilled a long jumper and a three from the corner, helping the Tigers pull within six with a little over four minutes left in the half.
But Colorado State guard Dorian Green — a Lawrence High grad who scored 17 first-half points on the way to a game-high 26 — answered with a three-pointer that extended the Rams’ lead to 38-29 with 3:25 left.
“He was hitting shots,” Pressey said of Green. “They screen, they cut and when you play offense like that, it allows things like Green to get open for open shots.”
Missouri finished the half trailing 47-38 despite shooting 50 percent (15 for 30). But the Rams were even better at 57 percent (15 for 27), and were also 11 of 11 from the free-throw line.
The Tigers got as close as they would ever get early in the second half, when a three-pointer by Jabari Brown and a driving layup by Pressey cut the deficit to 47-43 and Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy called a timeout.
Iverson make a basket out of the timeout, but quickly picked up his third foul. Oriakhi made both free throws, but Green made a layup, extending Colorado State’s lead to 51-45 with 16:47 left.
Things fell apart for Missouri from there. Colorado State went on a 20-10 run over the next 9:26 and led 71-55 with 7:21 to play. Six different Rams scored during the run, which also saw Missouri shoot three for 14 from the field.
Spurred by five Brown free throws, an Oriakhi dunk and a Pressey three-pointer, the Tigers cut the deficit to 72-65 with 5:05 left.
But Colorado State made two free throws and a layup by forward Pierce Hornung extended the Rams’ lead to 76-65. Junior Earnest Ross was whistled for a travel on Missouri’s next possession — the Tigers’ second straight turnover — and John Octeus added a tip-in that put Colorado State ahead by 13 with 2:41 left.
Pressey scored a team-high 20 points for Missouri, which last won a tournament game in 2010, when they defeated seventh-seeded Clemson as a No. 10 seed.
Oriakhi (16 points), Brown (14 points) and Ross (11 points) also scored in double figures for the Tigers, who played the entire second half without senior guard Keion Bell, who finished with zero points and two rebounds.
Colorado State won its first NCAA Tournament game since 1989 and will face a top-seeded Louisville on Saturday in the round of 32.
“You can say that they wanted it more,” Oriakhi said. “We got what we deserved.”