Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The question was for a player but the coach had the answer.
Kim Anderson pulled his microphone close to him and cut off freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar, who was hesitant to answer the query about a Missouri teammate.
“I think the first thing to remember is Wes Clark didn’t lose the game, OK?” Anderson interjected. “So all of you can write that down. Wes Clark didn’t lose the game. All right? Thank you.”
Without Clark’s eight points, six assists and five rebounds, the Tigers probably would not have been in the game. But his last two shots are the ones that will linger.
After drawing a foul with 3.3 seconds to play, Clark missed two free throws to cost the Tigers a chance to beat Arkansas, which pulled down the rebound and held on for a 61-60 win Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“Without him,” Anderson said, “that situation probably wouldn’t have occurred.”
The win was Arkansas’ first at Mizzou Arena as a Southeastern Conference foe. Coach Mike Anderson won plenty of games in Columbia as a coach of the Tigers from 2006-2011, but Saturday’s was his first wearing a Razorback pin and a red hankerchief.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of storylines, and everyone wants to talk about it and read about it, but to me, I’m a day-to-day guy,” Mike Anderson said. “So it was the next game. Is it a big game? Yeah. Why? It’s the next game.”
Missouri had the ball for one final possession with 17.2 seconds to play. Clark drew a non-shooting foul with 5.3 seconds to play. After an Arkansas timeout and an inbounds pass, Clark drove along the baseline and drew a shooting foul.
Mike Anderson said he called the timeout partially to tell his team what to do after the free throws and partially to give Clark more time to think about the shots.
“Having to sit there in my chair where I’m sitting at and watching a lot of free throws being shot going down the stretch in games, it brought in mind some of those games when we played opponents and they shot it and didn’t make it,” Mike Anderson said.
The Razorbacks’ run a non-stop full-court pressure defense, which put ball-handling in focus entering the game. Missouri did fairly well against the press, turning the ball over just eight times, but Mike Anderson said that number can be deceptive.
“Everybody looks at the turnovers. It’s not about the turnovers,” he said. “It’s about the wear and tear. Who knows? It might have been a factor in the (missed) free throw(s).”
Missouri trailed for most of the first half but went on a 15-4 run to take the lead with 2:25 left on a Gill-Caesar three-point play in transition. Gill-Caesar scored eight of Missouri’s final 10 points in the half, and the Tigers entered halftime on a 18-6 run up 34-30. Gill-Caesar and Johnathan Williams III, who scored Missouri’s first seven points of the game, each tallied 11 points by halftime.
In their previous game, the Tigers squandered a seven-point halftime lead at Texas A&M. The second-half struggle seemed to carry over when Arkansas came out of intermission with an 11-3 run. Missouri responded with a 6-0 run of its own, however, and neither team could pull away by more than four until Rashad Madden hit two free throws to give Arkansas a 53-47 lead.
Clark then went on a run of his own, scoring Missouri’s next four points.
The sophomore guard also held most of the responsibility of keeping Michael Qualls in check. Qualls, the third-leading scorer in the SEC entering the game, scored 30 points Thursday to lead the Razorbacks to an overtime defeat of Alabama. Saturday, Qualls finished with eight points on 3-of-15 shooting.
“Wes is an elite defender,” Gill-Caesar said. “He’s quick. He’s smart. So putting him on Qualls was a smart move, because it might his night, as you can see, very difficult.”
Gill-Caesar finished with a team-high 16 points. Kim Anderson didn’t know the freshman would be able to play until 30 minutes before the game because of a sprained ankle.
Gill-Caesar hit one of his three 3-pointers to tie the game at 58 with 2:40 to play. On the Tigers’ next possession, he hit a shot with his foot on the 3-point line to give Missouri a 60-59 edge.
Madden hit a jumper with 1:24 to score the final points of the game. Missouri had a chance to score on its next possession when Allen missed a point-blank putback attempt. The shot was strikingly similar to the one missed by Allen at the end of overtime on Dec. 30 to cost Missouri a chance to defeat Oklahoma State.
Allen responded on the other end with a block of Alandise Harris, who scored a team-high 14, and Allen pulled down a key rebound on a Qualls miss to give Missouri its final possession.
Both teams shot less than 40 percent from the field and combined for 11 missed free throws.
“Well, if you wanted a competitive game, you got that, no question about it,” Mike Anderson said. “Right down to the last few seconds. If you wanted a pretty game, it probably wasn’t.”