Outside of Jordan Geist, Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett, Missouri (13-7, 3-4 SEC) shot only 25 percent from the field Wednesday. That’s just not enough scoring, and Mizzou fell 91-73 to No. 19 Auburn (18-2, 6-1 SEC).
Three major weaknesses that have tormented the Tigers all season long each showed themselves prominently: Jeremiah Tilmon got into foul trouble, again. Missouri turned the ball over way too much, again. Mizzou’s lack of a go-to scorer and ballhandler in clutch moments proved to be costly, again.
Missouri had the ball trailing 54-52 midway through the second half with a chance to tie or take the lead. After Barnett missed a 3-pointer, the Tigers secured a rebound and had another chance.
Instead of converting on the opportunity, Mizzou turned the ball over as a Geist pass sailed right past Robertson and into the stands.
Auburn ripped off a 20-2 run and just like that a two-point game quickly became a blowout. “We just completely lost control,” Barnett said. “It just all fell apart right there.”
The loss dropped Mizzou to ninth place in the SEC and marks the first time it’s lost back to back games this season. The Tigers have to start collecting some solid victories, and fast, if they want to make the Tournament.
“We’re not good enough offensively to win games there (on offense), so we know we have to bring it on defense,” Geist said. “That’s our bread and butter right there. If we get stops, it doesn’t matter if we’re scoring. When we’re not trading buckets with them we can get down there and score eventually.”
Missouri started the game in a rut, failing to score for nearly the first three minutes and missing their initial four shots. A Barnett three, Kevin Puryear layup, and Geist three later and they found themselves leading 8-2.
Tilmon played just two minutes in the first half, quickly getting into foul trouble as he picked up his first foul merely 17 seconds into the game. “I think for him it’s understanding that it’s not the officiating, it’s him going and getting better,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said in reference to Tilmon’s foul struggles.
The Tigers had a similarly bipolar first half from then on, going on a series of runs and droughts. After a 9-0 Auburn run put Mizzou down five, Barnett responded with three straight 3s. The problem was that Bryce Brown answered the last two with triples of his own to retake a 20-18 Auburn lead.
After turning the ball over just once in the first 10 minutes of the game, Missouri had a possession meltdown and committed eight turnovers in the final 10:06. Auburn took advantage, going on a couple of runs and finding itself up 36-27 near the end of the half.
Mizzou was shooting 32 percent at this point and seemed on the verge of falling behind by a sizable margin. Instead, a Reed Nikko putback and rare one-handed slam by Robertson cut the lead down to five points.
The Tigers made four of their last seven shots and Jontay Porter sent his team into the intermission down 41-36 on a three with 37 seconds left. Missouri was incredibly lucky to find itself still in the contest after playing a pretty bad 20 minutes of offense.
Tilmon picked up two more fouls and found himself back on the bench in less than two minutes to start the second half. Auburn answered by pushing its lead back to nine on a contested three by Desean Murray.
“Why not?” Martin said when asked about his decision to leave Tilmon in after he picked up his third foul. “I mean, you know the end result so why not? At some point he’s got to play and go through it so that’s why I kept him out there.”
Then, Auburn went four minutes without making a field goal, opening up the chance for Mizzou to make it a game again. Barnett and Robertson knocked down back to back 3s as a part of an 8-0 run to do just that, cutting the lead down to one point.
After Geist’s aforementioned turnover, it was downhill for Mizzou. Auburn’s lead swelled to 20 and that was pretty much it.
Barnett scored 19 points while hitting five 3s and grabbing seven rebounds. Robertson dropped 21, but he and the rest of Missouri’s guards struggled mightily with turnovers.
Mizzou committed 20 turnovers for the game, which is its most since it lost to Illinois on Dec. 23. Cullen VanLeer had the most with four, but Porter, Geist, Barnett and Tilmon each had three.
Missouri will take on Mississippi State in an away game at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. It’ll need a much better all-around effort to bounce back.
“You have to be able to play at a high level whether or not the shot is falling,” Martin said. “I think that’s the area we’ve got to continue to grow and get better in.”