Sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III’s career night and a furious second-half comeback went for naught as Missouri’s quest to snap a 10-game losing streak came up short Saturday against Mississippi State at Mizzou Arena.
“We got close, but we just couldn’t finish the deal,” first-year Tigers coach Kim Anderson said. “We had a chance to finish it. We give up an offensive rebound. We make an error and throw the ball away on the other end and couldn’t finish the deal.”
Missouri overcame a double-digit halftime deficit, but couldn’t keep the Bulldogs at bay in a 77-74 loss — the program’s 11th straight defeat, which is the longest since a 12-game losing skid during the 1966-67 season.
Missouri, 7-18 and 1-11 in the SEC, trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half before surging into the lead on a layup by senior Keanau Post with 4:29 remaining, which had the crowd of 8,278 on its feet and in full throat.
The Tigers’ momentum — fueled by Williams, who scored a career-high 27 with a game-best seven rebounds, and junior Ryan Rosburg, who had a season-high 12 points — stalled there.
“I see bright spots, but we have to be able to play 40 minutes, and we just haven’t been able to do that,” Anderson said. “Until we do that or until the other team just plays really bad, it’s hard to win.”
As soon as Missouri took the lead, senior Roquez Johnson’s three-point play off an offensive rebound immediately moved Mississippi State, 12-13 and 5-7 in the SEC, back in front.
“That was huge, because we had just gotten the lead for the first time since early in the game and everyone was all excited,” Rosburg said. “But that’s just the way it is. One possession can change everything. If they don’t get that and we build a lead, then who knows what happens?”
Impossible to say, but we do know what happened next.
Missouri freshman guard Namon Wright, who returned Saturday from a two-game suspension along with Montaque Gill-Caesar, got caught in the air on Missouri’s next possession for a critical turnover.
Wright caught the ball in the right corner and rose for a three-point try before reconsidering after a closeout by Bulldogs 6-foot-11 freshman forward Fallou Ndoye.
In a panic, Wright tried a left-handed pass that went straight to Mississippi State’s Travis Daniel and led to a Craig Sword jumper for a four-point lead.
Missouri never led again.
Williams, who had been averaging 10.3 points per game in conference, had a chance to knot the game at 71-71 with roughly a minute remaining, but his jumper from the right elbow clanged off the back iron.
Sword, who snagged the rebound and was fouled, combined with Johnson in connecting on all six free throws in the final 52 seconds.
Sword and Johnson each finished with 22 points and collectively were 22 of 25 from the free-throw line.
The Bulldogs were 26 of 33 from the line overall, while the Tigers, who were whistled for 31 fouls, were only 14 of 21 at the charity stripe.
“Defensively, we have to get better,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to be able to guard, especially in pressure situations. Having said that, when I say we’ve got to be able to guard, we’ve got to be able to quit fouling too.”
Williams, who scored 23 of his 27 points in the second half, powered a 13-4 run early in the second half that moved MU back into contention with nine points. He said sitting for all but 8 minutes in the first half with foul trouble fueled him.
“I was really angry, so I just came out there and tried to play as hard as I can,” Williams said.
Playing without backcourt mate Wes Clark, who suffered a season-ending elbow injury Tuesday at South Carolina, senior Keith Shamburger scored 15 points with a game-high six assists and zero turnovers in 40 minutes.