By Benjamin Herrold
For four straight weeks, the Missouri men’s basketball team won a home game and lost a road game during the week, a stretch of .500 play and better basketball that gave fans some home for the future. Last week the Tigers mixed it up and won a road game, 61-52 at lowly Vanderbilt, but then lost at home on Saturday, 67-63 against Mississippi State.
Missouri (14-15, 6-10 in SEC play) has gone 5-5 in conference games after a 1-5 SEC start. The Tigers’ win at Vanderbilt was something of a breakthrough, their first SEC road win of the year. But then, with a chance at a 9-9 finish in conference play still alive, Missouri lost as a slight favorite against Mississippi State (19-10, 10-6 in SEC).
The Bulldogs are playing for one of the last spots in the NCAA Tournament, sitting on the bubble for the Big Dance. Mississippi State coach Ben Howland, who made three Final Fours at UCLA, reportedly wanted the Mizzou job in 2014 but couldn’t even get a phone call from Missouri, which hired Kim Anderson instead. Howland and his Bulldogs won both of their games against Missouri this season, but this second meeting was much closer than the January blowout in Starkville.
This one was more of a grind. Both teams play at a relatively slow pace, and the referees seemed to let the teams play a little more, and the second half was a tense, low-scoring contest. The Bulldogs led 41-34 at halftime, and by 11 early in the second half, but Missouri came roaring back, aided by a supportive home crowd.
But in the end, it wasn’t quite enough. Missouri got 20 points from Xavier Pinson and 19 from Drew Smith, who also had 9 rebounds, including a staggering 7 offensive rebounds. But part of the recipe for getting a lot of offensive rebounds is, unfortunately, missing a lot of three-pointers, and Missouri was just 6-of-29 from three. It’s bad to only make 20.7% of your threes; it’s worse to fire up 29 three-pointers when you’re not making them.
Missouri also couldn’t get much offense beyond those two, especially struggling inside against the big size of Mississippi State. Mitchell Smith did chip in 10 points on good shooting.
The Tigers wrap up the regular season with their Senior Day home game against Alabama (1:30 p.m. on SEC Network). Alabama (16-13, 8-8 in SEC) held off South Carolina, 90-86, at home on Saturday. The Crimson Tide probably won’t make the NCAA Tournament, but they’re still having a decent season and will be a good challenge for the Tigers on Saturday.
Alabama plays the fastest tempo of any SEC team, and they have one of the better offenses in the conference, so it will be a good test for coach Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri defense.
After hosting Alabama, the Tigers are off to Nashville for the season-ending SEC Tournament.