Four days after Missouri announced that third-year coach Kim Anderson would not return next season, he walked into the Tigers’ postgame locker room Thursday for the final time.
“It wasn’t the highlight of my career, I can tell you that,” Anderson said as thunder clapped loud enough to be heard inside Bridgestone Arena as a hail-producing storm raged outside. “The end of the season’s always hard … (but) I just told them how much I enjoyed coaching them, how proud I was of them.”
Mizzou played with grit once again, as it has almost universally throughout a program-record third straight 20-loss season, but it wasn’t enough during an 86-74 loss against Mississippi in the second round of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament.
That too has been the case almost universally for the Tigers (8-24), who bucked the trend with a stirring 86-83 overtime victory against Auburn a day earlier in the opening round but couldn’t recapture the same magic against the Rebels.
The loss closes the Anderson chapter, which will be remembered mostly for a mountain of losses, of Mizzou’s 111-year basketball history.
The Tigers’ two longest losing streaks — a 13-game skid in 2014-15 and from mid-December to early February this season — came on Anderson’s watch along with three of the five 20-loss seasons in program history.
As he reflected on the open wound that is the end of his coaching career at Mizzou, Anderson’s voice cracked briefly during an impassioned signoff.
“No one out there knows the challenges that we had,” he said. “You guys don’t know it. Nobody knows it but me. I’m not trying to be a martyr or anything like that, but I think when I walk out of here or when I leave, which will be tomorrow, I think we did some good things. But obviously, we didn’t win enough games and we didn’t generate enough money. When you don’t do that in college athletics, you don’t get to keep your job.
“I’m not bitter. I certainly understand that. I understand that. If you were to ask me, ‘When did you know you were going to get fired?’ I would have said probably the first day I took the job, because there was a lot of challenges that had to be met. We met them and we did a pretty good job, but we just didn’t win enough games.”
Anderson finished 27-68 overall, including a Mizzou and SEC single-season record 24 losses this season. His team’s went 8-46 in regular-season conference games and lost all 30 true road games.
The Tigers’ .284 win percentage under Anderson is the worst in program history, eclipsing Melvin Watkins’ .286 clip in seven games as an interim coach in 2006 after Quin Snyder was fired.
Bob Vanatta, who coached the only two previous 20-loss seasons in Mizzou history, owned the old record for lowest win percentage by a full-time coach at .344 from 1962-67.
“I certainly hope that whoever the (next) coach is that we have provided a little bit of a building block for them,” Anderson said. “When I was hired, I was asked to stabilize this program, and it took a while. Obviously, it took too long.”
Anderson will receive $650,000 plus $300,000 in earned annuity payments under the terms of a separation agreement, which Mizzou released earlier on Thursday.
As for the game, Mississippi (20-12) made hay at the free-throw line, going 31 of 47 — both season-highs for a Missouri opponent.
The Tigers were whistled for 29 fouls, including technical fouls against Anderson and senior forward Russell Woods along with Jordan Geist’s second flagrant-one in as many nights.
Woods’ technical, which came after he disagreed with a call against him fighting for a 50/50 ball, was his fifth with 11:02 remaining and effectively ended his college career.
It was symptomatic of the Tigers’ frustration with the game’s officiating, which also saw Geist and sophomore guard Terrence Phillips foul out.
“We went down fighting, and that’s how we’ve been all year,” Phillips said. “This is a team that just never gives up, no matter how much we’re down. … At the end of the day, we just kept fighting for this man right here.”
The Rebels were only whistled for 14 fouls, sending MU to the free-throw line 13 times.
“It was a thing of beauty, wasn’t it?” said Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy, who owns nine 20-win seasons in 12 seasons with the Rebels. “Anybody want a copy of that?”
The Tigers finished 9 of 21 from three-point range and finished at 30.4 percent for the season, which is the lowest in program history.
Junior guard Deandre Burnett led four Rebels in double figures with a game-high 23 points, while Phillips, junior forward Jordan Barnett and sophomore forward Kevin Puryear all scored 15 to lead the Tigers.
“I was proud of the way we hung (in),” Anderson said. “I’ve been proud all year. We just never could get it (the deficit) back below 10. … I’m just not sure we had a full tank of gas.”
Mizzou hung tough early and only trailed 30-28 with less than five minutes before halftime until a 16-4 Mississippi run had them in front 46-36 at intermission.
Unable to mount a comeback, Mizzou’s next game will be played with a different head coach on the bench.