Arguably its best opening half of the season wasn’t enough to propel Missouri to victory Wednesday in its Southeastern Conference opener at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers led by five at halftime and remained tied with LSU after nearly 28 minutes, but everything unraveled during the final 12 minutes, 35 seconds of an 88-77 loss.
“We need to learn how to win and that’s hard to do when you’re in the SEC,” MU coach Kim Anderson said. “ … I thought we got a little bit panicky and had guys taking shots that weren’t their shots. We do have a small margin for error.”
Too small to overcome LSU sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney’s game-best 24 points and six rebounds, which helped send Missouri to its fifth straight loss.
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Missouri (5-8, 0-1 SEC) opened the second half with two turnovers in the first 23 seconds in coughing up its hard-fought halftime edge.
Blakeney drilled back-to-back three-pointers 16 seconds apart a few minutes later, putting LSU (9-4, 1-1 SEC) in the lead for the first time since the game’s opening 6 1/2 minutes.
Mizzou never led again.
The game’s final tie came at 56-56, when senior Russell Woods, who was limited to 16 minutes because of back spasms, converted a layup 7 1/2 minutes into the second half.
It was all LSU from there, starting with a 15-2 run as Mizzou’s familiar shooting woes returned after disappearing briefly in the opening half.
“Those turnovers to start the second half definitely set the tone and it kind of deflated us,” said MU forward Kevin Puryear, who scored 15 points with seven rebounds before fouling out.
Six LSU players scored during the game’s decisive surge, which left the visitors in front 71-58.
Missouri never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
LSU won the second half 53-37 in sending MU to its sixth straight conference loss dating back to last season.
“For the most part, in the second half, we couldn’t guard the ball,” Anderson said. “ … We tried everything. We tried zone, we tried man, we tried switching, and we tried trapping. We couldn’t stop them.”
Mizzou bucked its season-long struggles by shooting 47 percent in the first half, including 43 percent from three-point range, in building a 40-35 lead.
Both marks are significantly above season averages of 39.7 percent and 27.2 percent and also proved unsustainable in the second half, when Mizzou cooled to 38.7 percent overall and 7.7 percent — a dismal 1 of 13 — from three-point range.
“I don’t think it was anything special necessarily,” said junior forward Jordan Barnett, who scored a career-high 18 points with a game-high nine rebounds. “We just didn’t hit shots. That’s been pretty much the story of the season so far. We haven’t been able to hit shots when we need them and other teams have been.”
LSU — which shot 55 percent from the field, going 21 of 38 overall, in the second half — led 13-6 early behind Blakeney, but a 6 1/2 -minute scoring drought gave Mizzou life.
Anderson’s squad lit it up from long range during a 16-0 run, which started when sophomore guard Terrence Phillips, who came off the bench for the first time in 44 games with Mizzou, splashed a three-pointer.
Puryear and Barnett followed with midrange jumpers before sophomore guard Jordan Geist, Puryear and Barnett drilled successive threes as MU surged in front 22-13.
The lead reached 33-23 on a three-pointer near the 5-minute mark by Geist, who finished with 13 points, but Mizzou’s good fortune wouldn’t last.
“We had some success early,” Anderson said. “We made some shots. I thought we were playing with a good rhythm. We were getting the ball moved around. We were forcing them to guard us. Then, we went in at halftime … and we came back out and, for whatever reason, we threw the ball away a couple of times.”
Sophomore guard K.J. Walton, who made his first start of the season in Phillips’ place, finished with 11 points, while Phillips added 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds with only one turnover.
Sophomore guard Cullen VanLeer, who had started the season’s first four games and led Mizzou in minutes at 31.8 per game entering Wednesday, played one minute midway through the second half.
Freshman forward Mitchell Smith injured his left knee in the closing seconds of the first half. He had to be helped off the floor by Mizzou’s training staff and is scheduled for an MRI on Thursday.
“We’ll probably have more information later on, but it didn’t look good,” Anderson said.