Missouri’s basketball season came to a close Friday night in Nashville with a 67-54 loss to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers (20-13) jumped out to an early 7-1 lead, but the Seminoles (21-11) dominated the rest of the first half, outscoring the Tigers 41-13 during the stretch to take a 42-20 halftime lead.
Missouri has battled adversity all season, and the Tigers scrapped and clawed back to within 50-44, but then buckled down the stretch and Florida State won comfortably.
Missouri appeared to run out of gas late in the game, taxed by the effort of making the big comeback and the roster depleted by injury and the suspension of second leading scorer Jordan Barnett for drunk driving. But Florida State appeared to be the better team anyway, and the Seminoles backed up the win with an upset of West Region No. 1 seed Xavier on Sunday, advancing to the Sweet 16.
Senior Kassius Robertson went out firing away, scoring 19 points in his final game as a Tiger, shooting a sizzling 6-for-10 on three-pointers.
After a fine freshman campaign, Jontay Porter had a fairly tough game offensively, but he still pulled down six rebounds and had five assists. His brother Michael Porter Jr., also a freshman, had a double-double in just his third, and probably final, game for Missouri. His shooting wasn’t efficient, but he finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, still probably limited as he was coming back from the back surgery that took away most of his season.
All in all, it was a successful season for Missouri. After three straight miserably bad campaigns, the Tigers won 20 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. Of course, Tiger fans probably wonder what might have been. Winning games in the NCAA Tournament is a big deal for programs, and Missouri has not won a game in the “Big Dance” since 2010, three coaches ago. Friday was the Tigers’ fifth straight NCAA Tournament loss.
Still, the 2017-18 season was a huge step forward, a nice start to the Cuonzo Martin era at Missouri. The coach has kept after it on the recruiting trail, attending one top recruit’s game the day after Missouri’s NCAA Tournament game.
He’ll need to keep recruiting well, because the Tigers will have some shoes to fill. Missouri’s top two scorers, Robertson and Barnett, are seniors who are now done with college basketball. Michael Porter Jr. will most likely be off to the NBA, and there’s a chance Jontay joins him as well after an impressive freshman season.
Missouri brings back Kevin Puryear and Jordan Geist, who will both be seniors next season. Big man Jeremiah Tilmon will be a sophomore and could make some strides, especially if he gets better at staying out of foul trouble.
Missouri basketball is fun again, which is cause for celebration. Now comes an eventful offseason, and then an intriguing second year for Martin and his Tigers.