Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri men’s basketball team fell Saturday to Texas A&M by a score of 83-61, but the most important numbers of the day were seven, eight and nine.
• Seven: The number of Missouri players who have been suspended for disciplinary reasons this season. Freshmen guards Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright became the latest offenders Saturday morning and missed the game later that afternoon for a “violation of team policy.”
• Eight: The number of field goal attempts missed by Texas A&M in the second half. The Aggies took 27 shots and 19 fell, good for 70.4 percent. Texas A&M outscored Missouri 45-30 in the second half and shot 58.9 percent overall.
• Nine: The number of consecutive losses by the Tigers. The streak is the team’s longest since the 1966-67 season, and more than a month will have passed since Missouri’s last win when the Tigers try to snap the streak Tuesday at South Carolina.
With freshman Tramaine Isabell withheld from his third straight game for behavioral issues, Missouri had just eight members of its rotation available for Saturday’s matchup with the third-place team in the Southeastern Conference.
After the game, first-year Missouri coach Kim Anderson stressed he would have made the decision whether Missouri was 7-16 or 20-3.
“Yeah, I want to win basketball games,” he said. “But I said this when I was hired, and I’d say it today: I am a teacher. I am a teacher, and I want to help these kids grow up. And if this is the way I can help them, whether we win or lose, that’s the way I’m going to do it.”
With the absence of shooting guards Wright and Gill-Caesar, junior transfer Deuce Bello made his first start as a Tiger.
Jakeenan Gant and D’Angelo Allen, the only Missouri freshmen active for the game, came off the bench to try to fill the void as well. Earlier in the day, the 6-foot-8 Gant and 6-foot-7 Allen worked with Anderson to prepare to play out of position.
The Tigers kept the Aggies in their sights in the first half, led by Wes Clark and his 13 points. Clark scored nine of Missouri’s first 15 points and gave the Tigers their first lead of the day at 9-7. Missouri and Texas A&M traded leads, and a Gant jumper brought the Tigers within 19-18, but the Aggies responded with a 7-0 run.
Texas A&M Danuel House sunk his first four 3-point attempts of the game, and his fourth began an 8-2 Aggies run after the Tigers had cut the lead to 28-25.
Missouri were outdone on the offensive boards 7-3 in the first half, and leading scorer Johnathan Williams III was held scoreless until he hit a runner with 55 seconds left in the half. Clark hit a jumper with six seconds remaining to send the teams to halftime with Texas A&M up 38-31.
It was downhill from there.
The Tigers looked sloppy in the second half, turning the ball over on three of their first five possessions, losing track of players on defense and tipping rebounds into the opponent’s net.
What’s more, Clark and senior guard Keith Shamburger were each on the court for 37 minutes, and Williams played for all but 10.
The mix of confusion and fatigue led to an unraveling, and the Aggies handed Missouri its second straight home loss of 20 or more points. Before Jan. 31, the Tigers hadn’t had such a loss since 2010.
“As a team they had great movement and cut hard,” Clark said of the Aggies. “(They) made it a little difficult for us to guard, and we got a little fatigued at the end, and it showed up.”
In the post-game press conference, House, who finished with a game-high 20 points, was asked if there was any point in the second half when he could tell Missouri felt the game was lost.
“Yeah, when they started warming up for the second half,” he said. “I mean, the guys didn’t look into the game.”
Anderson wasn’t quite as down on his team’s performance.
“I was proud of my guys,” he said. “We had guys playing all different positions. We did some stuff this morning to try to allow for the absence of the two young men, and so I was proud of the way that we fought. Obviously, I thought late in the game we wore out, but you can’t give up 70-percent (shooting) in the second half and win.”
The Tigers actually showed signs of improvement on offense, shooting 43.8 percent from the field and hitting the 50-point mark — which they had failed to do in the last two games — with nearly nine minutes to play.
Missouri also reached the free-throw line more frequently than its opponent, which had been a point of concern for the Tigers. And they hit their shots when they got there, too, going 16-of-19 from the line.
Still, baby steps don’t erase the fact that 23 games into the season, Missouri has only defeated one power-conference team.
“Losing is always tough,” Clark said. “Losing by five, losing by 20, I mean, it still counts as one loss. So it just got rough for us, and things got a little ugly.”
The Tigers will attempt to keep the streak from reaching double digits Tuesday in Columbia, S.C., and begin to move past the disappointment that has come both on and off the court.
“As long as I’m sitting in this spot, we’re going to do it the right way,” Anderson said. “Obviously, we haven’t done it the right way, but we’re going to try to do it the right way. I don’t know what’s (more) disappointing. I’m just disappointed in general.”