Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri Tigers can’t ask for a much more winnable game in Southeastern Conference play than the one they got Saturday.
Mississippi State, the only other SEC team seeking its second conference win, came to Mizzou Arena without its best player or a road win on the resume.
And yet, doomed by 2-of-25 shooting from 3-point range, the Tigers fell 76-62, securing their spot alone at the bottom of the SEC.
“We should’ve beat them, because I think we are a better team than them,” Missouri guard Namon Wright said. “It’s just we don’t show up every night. They showed up tonight and we didn’t.”
The Tigers missed all 13 attempts from behind the arc before halftime, and shot 37 percent from the field overall.
“I think that’s really the game right there,” point guard Terrence Phillips said.
Missouri struggled offensively against Mississippi State’s zone defense, which the Bulldogs hadn’t planned on using until senior Gavin Ware was deemed unable to play. Ware, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, suffered a concussion Thursday, which led coach Ben Howland to make a late switch to zone defense.
“We hadn’t played zone the last four games, so I don’t think there was any preparation by Missouri for us to play zone,” Howland said. “And … they didn’t know until today that Gavin wasn’t going to be here, which probably helped us, because you can put two and two together.”
Missouri coach Kim Anderson’s math was just fine.
“When Ware didn’t play, I told our guys before the game, ‘They’re going to play zone,’” Anderson said.
Not that the Bulldogs had much of a head start.
“We didn’t do any work to play zone for this game and just threw it in today because just looking at everything, it made sense,” Howland said.
Still, the switch worked in Mississippi State’s favor. Howland was banking on Missouri to shoot as poorly from deep as it had all season, and it worked.
The Tigers didn’t hit from long range until Phillips snapped the team’s 0-for-15 spell with 15:08 left in the second half.
“In order to beat the zone, you’ve got to get the ball in the middle of the floor,” Anderson. “You’ve got to get the ball to the short corner, and you’ve got to move the defense a little bit. Especially when you’re not making shots. … If you get it inside, then the outside stuff becomes a little bit easier.”
The Bulldogs held a double-digit lead for the game’s final 27:12.
Missouri did make a surge in the second half, using a 13-2 run to get within 11. A D’Angelo Allen putback cut the lead to 10, but Mississippi State scored six straight points to cool off the Tigers.
Missouri was led by Wright’s 16 points, while Jakeenan Gant and Phillips chipped in 11 and 10, respectively. Missouri’s leading scorer, Kevin Puryear, was held to two points, tied for a career low. He had only been held to single digits in six games before Saturday.
Four players scored 13 or more points for the Bulldogs: Malik Newman with 19, Quinndary Weatherspoon with 18, Craig Sword with 15 and Travis Daniels with 13.
The absent Ware averages 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs, both team highs. At 6-foot-9, he is Texas A&M’s tallest player other than 6-foot-10 freshman Aric Holman, who averages just 7.3 minutes per game. Holman started in Ware’s place and fouled out.
Missouri was also a man down, as sophomore Tramaine Isabell was not available for the game, the team said before the game.
“Tramaine will rejoin the team when he is able to improve his practice attitude and conduct,” a team statement read.
“My responsibility is to help him grow as a person,” Anderson said. “I still believe he’s doing that, and I’ll continue to do that as long as I’m the coach, and so I would anticipate him coming back — I know he’ll come back, the question is when, and that decision will be made by me.”
Isabell did not play in Missouri’s previous two games, losses at Texas A&M and Kentucky. Isabell, who has averaged 5.6 points per game this season, missed five games to suspension last season, also because of practice behavior.
The loss was the sixth in a row for Missouri.
“I’m not really used to this,” said Anderson, who won a Division II national championship at Central Missouri before coming to Columbia last year. “There are times when I just want these guys to have some success, and I can’t play. I can’t go out and do it, so yeah, I get frustrated.”
The Tigers (8-13, 1-7 SEC) return to Mizzou Arena on Wednesday against Mississippi.