Stopping leading scorer Josh Richardson and rebounding the ball were key cogs in Missouri’s game plan against Tennessee.
The Tigers succeeded in the former, limiting Richardson to a season-worst eight points — less than half of his season average.
That’s the good news from Missouri’s 59-51 loss Saturday against the Volunteers at Mizzou Arena.
Richardson, a senior who entered play averaging 16.4 points, only went two of nine from the field. He missed all four shots from the field in the second half and didn’t score after halftime until hitting three free throws in the final 1 minute, 12 seconds.
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That part was encouraging, especially after the trouble the Tigers have had defending dribble penetration.
Richardson shoots nearly 40 percent from three-point range on the season and didn’t attempt a shot from distance against Missouri, but the defense wasn’t stellar all-around.
“We really did a pretty decent job (against Richardson),” Anderson said. “He obviously was the guy; he was the guy we were really concerned with. The other guy was (junior Armani) Moore, and we didn’t do a good job on him. He’s a guy that can put his head down and get to the basket, and he ends up with a double-double.”
The bigger issue, other than an ill-timed spate of three turnovers in the closing minutes that turned a tie game into a six-point lead for the Vols, was the rebounding.
Tennessee plays almost exclusively zone and entered play as one of the few SEC teams to average fewer rebounds than Missouri.
“I really thought that’s an area where we could get an advantage,” Anderson said.
It didn’t happen.
The Tigers got beat on the boards 37-33 and managed only 12 offensive rebounds and seven second-chance points.
Offensively, Missouri also played right into Tennessee’s hands by settling for three-pointers too often against its 2-1-2 zone.
The Tigers let 22 shots fly from long range, including a two of 11 first-half performance on three-pointers.
Missouri wound up shooting 36.4 percent for the game, which was tied for fourth-worst on the season behind Kentucky (27.1 percent) and Purdue (34.5).
Anderson’s crew also shot 36.4 percent in a loss against Arizona in the opening game of the Maui Invitational.
“We took 22 threes,” Anderson said. “I don’t think we’re playing as physical as we need to. … We didn’t get inside the zone very often and that’s what their zone’s designed to do.”
Anderson said he thought leading scorer Johnathan Williams III was open on several occasions, but he didn’t get the ball.
Williams scored only eight points and attempted only one shot in the second half.
After averaging 17.6 points during an eight-game stretch between Dec. 2 and Jan. 3, Williams has scored only 20 points in Missouri’s last three games — losses to Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee.
“We talked about that in the huddle,” Anderson said. “We talked about, ‘Hey, J3 is open. We’ve got to get him the ball.’ But I’m not out there playing either and have this hand in front of me when I’m trying to feed it into him.”
Missouri had better figure something out with another test against a stingy zone defense Wednesday at Texas A&M.
Player of the game
Tennessee’s Armani Moore had a double-double with game-highs of 15 points on six-for-eight shooting and 11 rebounds. He turned the ball over four times but also recorded two assists, two steals and a block.
Stat of the game
Missouri is riding its second three-game skid of the season. The Tigers hadn’t had two skids of three games or more in the same season since 2005-06, which was Quin Snyder’s final season.
MU hasn’t lost four straight games since Jan. 6-15, 2007, during Mike Anderson’s first season.