Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — After trailing by as many as 17 points Saturday, the Missouri men’s basketball team inched ahead of Mississippi State with less than five minutes to play on a Keanau Post layup.
But as has been the case of late, the last lead would not belong to Missouri, and the Tigers fell to the Bulldogs 77-74, dropping their 11th straight game despite a career-high 27 points from Johnathan Williams III.
“I’m really kind of tired of moral victories, to be honest with you,” first-year Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “But I’m proud of the guys. We didn’t give up. We got down 17. We could’ve got down 34, and we came back and we took the lead. So I see bright spots.”
Missouri trailed by 11 at the half after allowing Mississippi State to shoot 66.7 percent from the field. The Tigers made half their shots in the second half and held the Bulldogs to a 45-percent clip, but the first-half woes were too much for Missouri to overcome.
“In order to win in the (Southeastern Conference), you’ve got to to play two halves,” Anderson said.
The Tigers had a few more weapons at hand with the return of freshman guards Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright, who had been suspended the previous two games. Missouri was still without freshman guard Tramaine Isabell, suspended for behavior toward teammates and coaches, and sophomore guard Wes Clark is out for the year after dislocating an elbow Tuesday at South Carolina.
Though Gill-Caesar and Wright have a combined 26 starts between them, both came off the bench Saturday. Freshman D’Angelo Allen got his first career start and junior transfer Deuce Bello got his third start as a Tiger.
After jumping out to a five-point lead, the Tigers struggled in the first half, allowing 40 points, racking up 13 fouls and missing 10 3-pointers.
“We shot too many 3s,” Anderson said. “We have to get the ball inside more. We have to do that. We have to put more pressure on the defense. … We just can’t rely on shooting jump shots, because first of all, they’re hard to make when you’re guarded. And second of all, when you’re shooting those, you don’t get to the foul line.”
Getting the ball inside was difficult with starting forwards Williams and Keanau Post spending a combined 29 first-half minutes off the court with two fouls apiece.
The time on the bench got to Williams.
“I was really angry,” he said. “So I just came out there and tried to play as hard as I can.”
It worked. Williams scored 23 points in the second half on 7-of-11 shooting after being held to four in the first.
“I thought he did a really good job of attacking and not settling,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “I think sometimes in those situations, guys just settle for jump shots, but I thought he did a great job of facing up and turning and facing and trying to get to the rim.”
Williams scored nine of Missouri’s first 13 points coming out of the locker room, and the Tigers got an added post presence from junior forward Ryan Rosburg, who scored a season-high 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Missouri desperately needed to find points from new sources without Clark, the team’s leading scorer in SEC play.
“I knew Wes was down and we needed scoring and I had to step up,” Rosburg said. “So I wanted to step up and just try to go out and do what I do every time. Shots started falling, and it just felt good.”
The Tigers clawed back within three on an Allen layup with 8:30 to play in the half. Allen finished with seven points and seven rebounds in his first start, including five much-needed offensive boards.
“We’re offensively challenged, so we talk a lot about, ‘How can we get second shots?’” Anderson said. “Or ‘How can we create other scoring opportunities?’ And one way is by offensive rebounding.”
The Bulldogs fended off Missouri during the next two minutes, stretching the lead to as many as seven before Williams triggered an 8-0 Missouri run with two free throws and a 3. Post took the lead — Missouri’s first since 8-7 — when he hit a free throw and made a layup after Williams rebounded Post’s second free-throw attempt.
The 32-minute comeback lasted all of 17 seconds.
On Mississippi’s next position, Travis Daniels missed a 3-point attempt, but Roquez Johnson snatched an offensive rebound and scored a layup to take command for the Bulldogs.
“That was huge, just because we had gotten a lead for the first time since early in the game, and everyone was all excited,” Rosburg said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s one possession. It can change everything. If they don’t get that and we build a lead, who knows what happens?”
Instead, Mississippi State began to reconstruct its lead, scoring five straight points after Post’s layup. Keith Shamburger hit a 3-pointer to pull Missouri within two with 1:32 to play, but Williams missed a jumper on the Tigers’ next possession, and Missouri began to foul.
Williams hit a deep desparation heave with 1.7 seconds to play to cut the lead to one, but the Bulldogs made two more free throws and Williams pushed off for an offensive foul trying to receive Allen’s baseball-style inbounds pass with :0.8 to play.
Mississippi State hit its last six free-throw attempts and 26-of-33 overall.
“I think free throws kept us in the game, and we just kept the energy up,” Bulldogs guard Jeffery Johnson said. “They hit a couple big shots, and we just stayed the course.”
The teams combined for 51 total fouls, and though six Tigers ended the game with four personal fouls, no player fouled out.
“Every possession it seemed like there was a foul, and that’s not on the officiating at all,” Rosburg said. “We didn’t play good defense sometimes, and just yeah, it was harder to get a flow (going). We didn’t get stops when we needed to get stops, basically.”