Missouri (11-4, 1-1 SEC) fell 77-75 to Florida in its SEC home opener after squandering a five-point lead late in the contest. Jordan Barnett scored a career-high 28 points, made six threes and secured eight rebounds, but the Gators scored the game’s final seven points.
“It hurts. A lot,” Barnett said about the loss. “It angers us a lot. The best thing we can do is take that anger, channel it and use it on Wednesday. That’s all we can do.”
The Tigers have let several big leads slip away already this season, including the West Virginia disaster, but this one certainly stings the most. A convincing win over the Gators would have been a huge boost to their chances of making the NCAA Tournament, but instead Mizzou is left searching for answers.
“The pain will take care of itself,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said when asked what he told his team after the loss. “There’s no point in me talking for hours. Just learn from it, just push forward.”
In what’s become the norm, Barnett got off to a hot start. He scored 15 points in the first half alone and spurred a 14-5 run to give the Tigers an early 12-point lead.
“I don’t remember a guy making this big a jump in one year,” Florida coach Mike White said. “This guy was a good player last year, but he is terrific. Off the top of my head I can’t imagine there is a more improved player in our league.”
Missouri’s lead didn’t last for long, though. Florida responded to the double-digit deficit with a 11-2 run of its own to cut the gap down to three. The Tigers managed to push their lead back to eight points, but Florida closed the half with a 12-2 run and took a 36-35 lead.
Despite out-shooting, out-rebounding, and seeming to out-play the Gators (11-4, 3-0 SEC) in the first half, Mizzou managed to find itself behind. Seven timely turnovers and foul trouble were the two main reasons.
Missouri’s guards combined for three turnovers and just one assist. Jontay Porter ended the first half with two fouls, while Jeremiah Tilmon had three and played just five minutes.
Instead of letting the game slip away, the Tigers started the second half with purpose. Two Barnett 3-pointers keyed a 10-2 run to retake a five-point lead. After the second triple, Barnett turned and stared down his own bench. He was on fire, and he knew it.
Not to be outdone, Chiozza knocked down a mid-range jumper before draining a deep three to give Florida a 51-49 lead a few minutes later. After squandering the initial lead, Missouri found itself in a back and forth struggle.
Just like he did against South Carolina, it was Kassius Robertson who came up clutch. He buried a tough step-back corner 3-pointer to answer Chiozza, and then scored on a layup after working his way past a two defenders.
Barnett hit another triple and made two free throws after snagging an offensive rebound. Jordan Geist got in on the 3-pointer party following a Florida free throw and Mizzou found itself up 10 points after a 13-1 run.
Florida went on an 6-0 stretch of its own and trailed by two with under 40 seconds left in the game. Porter came up with a huge block, but the Gators tied the game at 75 on free throws after Robertson fouled Jalen Hudson on a 3-pointer.
This is a foul, apparently. pic.twitter.com/aE8KfD1w2O— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) January 6, 2018
Geist dribbled the ball out for the last possession of the game, and threw a pass intended for Robertson. Chiozza timed a steal attempt perfectly, however, and picked it off, laying the ball in with 0.1 seconds left for the win.
“He just made a good read, we didn’t see him coming,” Robertson said. “We ran a up-screen play and it worked. It was gonna be wide open. Like I said Chiozza just made a hell of a play.”
In what was such a great game played by both teams, it’s unfortunate that officiating will overshadow it all.
“It was a tough game for me,” Martin said, seeming to allude to the calls. “I’ve never been one to say anything, but it was very, very tough for me, very tough if you know what I’m saying. It was probably the toughest one I’ve ever been a part of. I’m not a complainer. I respect all, but it was hard.”
Besides the call on Robertson, the last two that resulted in Tilmon fouling out were also questionable. It had an enormous impact on the game, as he missed the final five minutes.
“We gotta figure out a way to allow Jeremiah Tilmon to play basketball,” Martin said. “Some of those you just watch and it’s a 19-year-old kid, he’s doing the things you ask him to do. I just hope he doesn’t get a reputation, because he’s doing the right things and he plays hard. It is what it is. Leave it on the floor, let them play the game.”
Missouri hosts Georgia (11-3, 2-1 SEC) at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The Bulldogs are coming off of an impressive 65-46 win over Alabama, and will be a tough test for the Tigers.