Missouri blew a chance to start SEC play 2-0 on Saturday against Auburn, but the Tigers continued a recent trend of battling tooth and nail to the final whistle.
“I still think we’ve turned a corner,” senior guard Keith Shamburger said. “I still think I see a difference with our team. We still play with a lot of energy, a lot of effort and (we’re) still playing hard. There’s nothing you can take from us.”
Auburn won 85-79 behind junior Cinmeon Bowers, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds and had the game’s signature moment — a flexing, preening display after he powered in a layup through contact with 90 seconds remaining.
“He’s really the heart of the team,” Shamburger said. “You can tell. When he gets going, that’s their leader there. … Once he gets going, he pumps up the crowd and he pumps up everybody on the team.”
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Bowers ignited a strong finishing kick with his relentless on the boards, but Missouri still acquitted itself well in a tough road environment.
Bruce Pearl has energized a long-dormant program and a near-capacity crowd of 8,365 — Auburn Arena holds 9,121 — fed off Bowers’ big plays and had the arena rocking throughout.
“We are so much improved from where we were a month ago, but there are still times where we revert to our instincts and maybe our instincts aren’t quite where they need to be,” MU coach Kim Anderson said.
That explains some of Missouri’s head-scratching turnovers and impatient shots late in the game.
There are miles to go before Missouri can consider itself a contender in the conference, but there are signs that point to better days ahead.
“I’m really proud to see that we are fighting until the end,” Anderson said. “You think back to a couple of those games early where we wilted. Now, we fought these guys to the end.”
Auburn corrals J3
Missouri sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III had been on quite a roll.
He had averaged 17.6 points and 9.1 rebounds in the Tigers’ previous eight games before Saturday’s loss at Auburn, when Williams was limited to nine points and eight rebounds.
“They did a really good job on J3,” Anderson said. “And I think he’ll learn from this game, let me just put it that way.”
Auburn pushed Williams well off the block and collapsed when he tried to put the ball on the floor. He racked up five turnovers and spent most of the second half in foul trouble and frustrated.
“They did a good job of being physical with him,” Anderson said. “I think there’s some adjustments he’s got to make, and I know what they are and he knows what they are.”
Player of the game
Bowers is the obvious choice, especially with his three steals factored in, but that’s been covered.
Let’s go with Keith Shamburger, who scored a season- and game-high 21 points with six rebounds, two assists and only one turnover in 37 minutes.
Shamburger, who hadn’t scored more than 16 points with the Tigers, drilled five three-pointers, the most in his career since he hit six against Idaho late in his freshman season at San Jose State in 2010-11.
The 21 points represent Shamburger’s 11th career 20-point game. He had nine in two seasons at San Jose State and one last season at Hawaii before transferring to Missouri as a graduate student.
Stat of the game
It would be easy to point to Missouri’s rebounding edge, 40-31, but the Tigers’ assist-to-turnover ratio remains a concern.
Missouri had more assists than turnovers only once in the season’s first 12 games, a 16-9 mark during a 78-64 win against Oral Roberts on Nov. 19.
The Tigers posted marks of 13-10 against Lipscomb and 16-14 against LSU, but took a slight step back at Auburn with 12 assists and 14 turnovers.