Missouri’s heartbreaking loss to Arkansas on Saturday had a lot of similarities to the game the Tigers lost a week ago to Florida.
In each game, MU held a late lead, went into the final possession with a chance to win, and still came up short.
While officiating was a factor in the Tigers’ loss to the Gators, Missouri lived and died by its own whistle at Bud Walton Arena, rather than the referees’.
Freshman Jeremiah Tilmon and junior Kevin Puryear both had offensive fouls on consecutive possessions in the final two minutes, which helped sway the game toward the Razorbacks.
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Junior point guard Jordan Geist’s three-point shot just missed the rim at the final second on a play that appeared to be for seniors Jordan Barnett or Kassius Robertson.
Robertson, who scored a season-high 26 points Saturday, said that Missouri (12-5, 2-2 SEC) is still “learning to win,” a phrase he’s used throughout the season as the Tigers still struggle to finish close games.
Missouri was down by as many as 18 points in the first half and rallied all the way back and took the lead in the second half. Despite the comeback from a double-digit deficit and a six-point lead in the final five minutes, Robertson said the team hasn’t proved its learned from its past mistakes.
“It doesn’t really matter if you can’t finish,” he said.
Aside from the Tigers loss at Utah in early November by 18 points, Missouri’s four other losses have been by a combined 14 points.
Missouri had a chance to win against Florida on Jan. 6, but Geist’s pass to Robertson was intercepted by Gators guard Chris Chiozza, who won the game with a wide open layup. On Saturday, head coach Cuonzo Martin drew up a play that gave Geist multiple options.
“The first one, yeah, I threw the ball to the other team,” Geist said. “I’d say that was a problem. I was just trying to take what the defense gave me this time.”
Aside from the Florida loss, Missouri also held a late lead against West Virginia in the AdvoCare Invitational title game and made a late run against Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game.
Robertson said even if Missouri had won both games the past two Saturdays, it wouldn’t have shown him that the team has overcome its hurdle this season.
“You’ve got to do it consistently,” Robertson said. “We’ve been in countless close games this season. We’ve got to learn how to consistently keep leads and take care of the ball at the end of the game and execute at the end of the game.”
For a team that has been without its best player in freshman Michael Porter Jr. for all but two minutes this season, Missouri has shown that it has plenty of other talent and can still make the postseason even if Porter doesn’t return.
The loss to Arkansas shouldn’t hurt Missouri’s current chances to make the NCAA Tournament, but the players know that the Southeastern Conference is a different animal this season.
“This league is very deep this year,” Barnett said on Tuesday. “There’s no giveaway games this year. Every game you have to work to win.”
Martin left the game optimistic that Missouri will solve its late-game execution and said if the team plays the way it did in the second half on Saturday, winning shouldn’t be a problem.
But in a league that currently has eight teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament, Missouri can’t take its time learning from Saturday.