Ignominy arrived Wednesday in the form of an 84-69 loss against No. 18 Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena.
It was the Tigers’ 12th consecutive defeat, matching the worst losing streak in program history and — at least after the Razorbacks’ 13-3 run to open the second half — not a particularly competitive one.
Missouri, which is still adjusting to life without sophomore guard Wes Clark after his season-ending dislocated right elbow last week, had more turnovers in the first 14 minutes (nine) than it had in a 61-60 loss Jan. 24 at Mizzou Arena (eight).
The Tigers, 7-19 overall and 1-12 in the Southeastern Conference, finished with a season-worst 20 turnovers, leading to 18 Razorbacks points, and also allowed 12 offensive rebounds that produced 22 second-chance points.
Still, Missouri — which shot 50 percent from the field, the second-highest effort of the season — had its chances.
The Tigers only trailed 37-29 at halftime despite 14 first-half turnovers, including seven by sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III, but the first few minutes of the second half proved decisive.
Five different Arkansas players scored during the opening 2 minutes, 18 seconds as the lead quickly ballooned to 50-32.
“I felt like the first 4 minutes of the second half would decide the game, and it did,” MU coach Kim Anderson said. “And it decided it the wrong way.”
The second half started with an offensive rebound by freshman Anton Beard, who scored 13 points and had a game-high five assists. He was fouled and hit two free throws before a Missouri turnover led to a Michael Qualls three-pointer — and the rout was on.
“We talked about coming out with energy that first 5 minutes,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “The first 5 minutes always sets the tone, and I think he’s correct in his assessment.”
Fittingly, the Razorbacks, 21-5 overall and 10-3 in conference, never led by fewer than 12 points the rest of the way.
Qualls, who scored a game-best 21 points punctuated the victory with 12:52 remaining in the second half when he built up a head of steam and elevated over MU senior Keith Shamburger for a thunderous dunk that sent the crowd of 15,740 into a frenzy.
After a slow start, Missouri took a 19-16 lead on a three-pointer by freshman Tramaine Isabell, who matched Williams with a team-high 13 points in his return from a five-game suspension.
What followed was some of the ugliest basketball of the season as the Tigers went 11 straight possessions during a 7:01 span without scoring.
Missouri committed nine turnovers, including five by Williams during that stretch. He also missed two of MU’s four shots as the Razorbacks surged ahead 31-19.
“Obviously, the pressure hurt us, especially in the first half,” Anderson said. “I think the key part of the game was the first half when we turned the ball over and they were able to capitalize.”
Qualls and guard Anthlon Bell combined for 11 points during Arkansas’ 15-0 run, but MU closed the half on a bit of a flourish behind freshman Jakeenan Gant. He scored seven points in the final 3:25, helping the Tigers trim the deficit to eight points at intermission.
“I just think we were getting rushed,” Gill-Caesar said. “We were just playing too fast. I think the pressure really scared us at first. Like everybody says, we’re young so we don’t really know how to deal with pressure like that yet, so it kind of hit us hard, and even though we played them before it’s still something really new to us.”
It’s the third time MU has lost 12 straight games. The Tigers dropped a dozen straight in 1965-66 and again in 1966-67 under Bob Vanatta during a woeful 6-43 stretch. Norm Stewart was hired as coach the following season.