Turnovers, travel issues and Jeremiah Tilmon in foul trouble.
It was déjà vu for the Tigers (12-12, 3-9 SEC) in a 75-65 loss at Mississippi (18-7, 8-4 SEC), in which MU had 25 turnovers after seeming to have addressed its biggest issue. The 25 turnovers tied its season-high at Iowa State on Nov. 9.
The team didn’t get into Oxford until Saturday morning due to issues with the flight crew on the Tigers’ charter plane. Missouri has had issues traveling to South Carolina and from Arkansas earlier this season.
Cuonzo Martin didn’t think Missouri’s travel issues were the sole reason the Tigers lost, but said “it’s a factor.”
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“Our guys didn’t complain about it.,” he said. “It’s nature.”
Missouri sophomore guard Mark Smith struggled in his first game back since Jan. 23. He missed the last six games with a left ankle sprain. Smith had just three points and struggled on three-pointers, after coming into the game shooting 47.5 percent from deep. Martin said he didn’t expect Smith to look like his old self, especially since he didn’t practice much until Friday. Jordan Geist led MU with 23 points, while freshman Xavier Pinson added 11 points and nine rebounds.
Smith’s return did mark an improvement in MU’s three-point shooting as a team, as the Tigers’ shot 47 percent from three while the Rebels shot just 37.5 percent.
Missouri’s first half was full of turnovers: The Tigers had 15 in the first 20 minutes. Most of them came on bad passes, sloppy dribbling or traveling calls, which MU just couldn’t seem to avoid. Both Kevin Puryear and Javon Pickett were called for traveling underneath the basket on layup attempts.
Rebels’ guard Breein Tyree said his team was trying to disrupt MU’s passing lanes and pressure the Tigers’ young guards as much as they could.
“Just making them make a decision at a time where they didn’t want to make a decision right then and there,” Tyree said of the approach.
For the first time in a month, Tilmon had foul trouble, picking up his first in the game’s opening minutes and his second with 12:39 left in the first half. Martin brought Tilmon in towards the end of the half with two fouls, and he was able to avoid his third.
Missouri started the game 2 for 10 from the floor but stayed in the game largely thanks to rebounding. The Tigers outrebounded the Rebels 21-9 in the first half with nine offensive rebounds alone. Smith’s first three-pointer in weeks cut the Rebel’s lead to 29-22 with 4:44 after Mississippi had an 8-0 run to stretch its lead into double digits. For the game, Missouri outrebounded Mississippi 37-21.
A pair of free throws from MU’s Reed Nikko cut the Rebels’ lead to five with 1:45 left. Mississippi went into halftime up 35-26.
Tilmon’s foul troubles persisted into the second half as he picked up two more fouls 29 seconds within each other and was back on the bench for the 16-minute mark. The Rebels appeared to be running away with the game, after a 7-0 run extended the lead to 19 points.
The Tigers briefly showed signs of life in the second half, when a 10-2 cut the deficit to nine points. Missouri’s defense held the Rebels without a field goal for nearly five minutes while Geist scored eight of Missouri’s 10 points during the stretch.
Geist scored a fastbreak layup with 7:31 left to keep the deficit at 10, but Geist was getting little help on offense.
After the game, Geist said he thought Missouri’s turnover issues were behind it and thought the team reverted back to its old ways in the loss.
“We tried to force too much,” Geist said. “We knew they were going to bring that 1-3-1 (press) out. We knew how to beat it. We practiced it. We tried to beat it ourselves throwing lobs passes. With an athletic team you can’t do that.”
While it struggled on offense, Missouri’s defense had a respectable performance against Rebels’ star guards in Tyree and Terence Davis. The duo came into Saturday averaging a combined 35 points and were held to just 23.
Tilmon fouled out with 5:30 left and finished with four points and four rebounds in 15 minutes. It was Tilmon’s lowest amount of playing time since he fouled out at South Carolina in 13 minutes on Jan. 13. Martin said he couldn’t tell immediately why Tilmon had a relapse with foul troubles but remembered one of his offensive fouls stemming from the 6-foot-10 sophomore posting up too hard.
“I hadn’t seen that in a while,” Martin said. “I don’t like those kind of plays.”
The Tigers got the Rebels’ lead to as little as seven after another three-point play by Geist but failed to get any closer. Bruce Stevens led the Rebels in scoring with 17 points and was one of four Mississippi players in double figures.
Missouri’s next game is against No. 5 Kentucky on Tuesday. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. on ESPN.