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Blake Harris may have found himself in St. Louis

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On comebacks, Blake Harris, and and absent production from important players.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

For the first 20 minutes, Missouri was the worst version of itself. The Tigers had 36 possessions, turned the ball over on 16 of them and scored on just 11 for an awful 22 points.

Against Stephen F. Austin, their shooting allowed them to overcome horrendous ball control. Against Illinois, none of their normally reliable shooting showed up, and because of it they faced a 20 point deficit at half time.

Blake Harris provided a spark in the second half, but the jump shooting didn’t follow the energy enough to get Mizzou over the hump. The Tigers got as close as four points late, but with just 26 seconds left the Tigers were forced to foul and Illinois made their free throws.

Let’s see the carnage...

mizzou illinois braggin rights box score

1. Coming back is hard work

There were several points during the second half when Missouri needed to string together a few jump shots, and the shots just wouldn’t fall. The Tigers’ aggression led them to being in the bonus early, and they crept to within six by simply keeping up their aggression, playing good defense, and making foul shots.

Look at this critical stretch in the second half:

  • 15:04: Harris layup and missed FT - 46 -34
  • Illinois misses a 3.
  • Jeremiah Tilmon misses a dunk.
  • Illinois misses two layups.
  • Jordan Barnett misses a 3.
  • Both teams turn the ball over.
  • 13:26, Robertson made 2 - 46-36
  • The teams went back and forth for a few possessions, then Barnett made free throws.
  • Mizzou had another opportunity as Illinois had one basket in four possessions, but the Tigers missed two 3-pointers, a jumper and had a turnover.

Coming back from a big deficit is hard work, far harder than preserving a lead. The Tigers expended a lot of energy in these two crucial stretches. If they were simply able to make one or two shots in each and find a way to create a legitimate run, they’d have found their comeback path much easier. Instead of trying to make up 8-10 points in the last 2-3 minutes, you need to do that with more time on the clock. And the chances were there.

Say whatever you will about the first half — you won’t be understating it. It was brutal and awful and easily the Tigers’ worst half of the season. They let Illinois dictate what Illinois wanted to do, and they shied away from the spotlight, and in turn the lead was nearly insurmountable.

But even with all that, if they’re simply able to make a couple jump shots at opportune times in the second, the game changes in a hurry. It was a frustrating game to watch from a lot of aspects, but through it all, even as bad as they played, they still had chances.

2. Did Blake Harris find himself?

now l get what #BragginRights is really about..See y’all next year

A post shared by Blake Harris (@blizzyblake55) on

God, I hope so. That Missouri finished with 21 turnovers in a 70-possession game is bad, very bad.

But since we’re apparently the sunshine blog in these parts, considering that 16 of those happened in the first half is a good sign because of what happened in the second half. Blake Harris started playing with confidence. And he was even used in some lineups with Terrence Phillips (I actually liked that grouping and how it worked).

Harris played with so much confidence he got T’d up for trash talking after an early steal and a dunk. He did have a fairly timely turnover after a run out when he couldn’t corral the ball, and he occasionally got stuck with the ball in a few spots. But considering the change in pace and aggressiveness of the team from the first half to the second, you have to attribute a lot of that to Harris’ play.

His second half line was 12 minutes, 10 points, three rebounds, an assist, and a steal with just one turnover. The scoring was nice (frankly, nobody else was doing it, so he almost had to), but on most nights you can probably flip his baskets to assists, and you’ve got yourself a point guard.

If I’m Cuonzo Martin, I sit down with Blake in a one-on-one video session and show him the second-half tape and how he can be the catalyst for this team. He doesn’t need to do everything — most nights his team isn’t going to shoot 18% from 3-point range — but he can be this team’s point guard.

3. Zero Points from the bench, not enough from Puryear

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers got uneven production from their top two in Barnett and Kassius Robertson, but the duo showed up. Harris had a big second half, and Jeremiah Tilmon had seven points and seven boards. But Kevin Puryear had just six and three, and the rest of the team scored a goose egg.

Reed Nikko played a minute, Cullen VanLeer played a minute, and Jordan Geist, Jontay Porter and Terrence Phillips failed to score.

I don’t want to harp much on Phillips because I actually think he played okay. Geist was a disaster and didn’t see the floor in the second half. Four turnovers in seven minutes and it was clear he was not meant for this game.

Having both Jontay and Kevin Puryear blanked and virtually absent from the box isn’t a good thing. The Tigers need both to be effective on offense, and a fair portion of that lies in the part of putting the ball into the basket.

Jontay has just one game of scoring in double digits in his last seven. He’s still rebounding, and defensively he’s played well. His rotations are good and he contests as many shots as he blocks. At some point his offense will get there, but it would be nice if it arrived sooner rather than later. There are times where he still looks hesitant in shooting and catching the ball around the basket.

Puryear is another enigma. I don’t recall a stretch like this for him. He’s now had five games in a row of not scoring more than six points. And unlike Jontay, Puryear isn’t a guy who stuffs a lot of other categories on the stat sheet. He hasn’t made a three during this stretch, but aside from a 2-for-9 performance against North Florida, he’s been an efficient scorer. So why are his opportunities not there? Why has Puryear basically become a ghost on the floor?

It’s a mystery Cuonzo and his staff need to figure out and soon.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The non-conference slate is done, and Mizzou is 54th in KenPom and 10-3. The loss to Illinois is always disappointing, but they’re still in decent enough shape with a decent conference run to make the NCAA tournament.

But in order for this team to be an NCAA tournament team, they’re going to have to get back to their Orlando form: more balanced scoring, semi-reliable ball-handling, and sticking with what they do best: defense, rebounding and offensive efficiency.

We’ll have more in the coming days on the SEC slate and what it means, but Missouri didn’t leave themselves a huge margin of error with the Illinois loss. The Tigers are probably going to need to go 10-8, which isn’t unachievable, even with four matchups against Kentucky and Texas A&M.

It all kicks off on January 3 at South Carolina.