You can’t really start anywhere else after an excruciating finish like the one that befell Missouri in a 77-75 loss to Florida on Saturday. There’s a reason fatalism nags at the psyche of MU fans, who almost expect gut-punches like the one inflicted by Chris Chiozza’s swipe-and score in the final three seconds only reinforces it.
For Cuonzo Martin’s team, the impact is more than psychological, it’s practical: needing a quality win to bolster its NCAA tournament résumé, the Tigers came up short.
Now, it’s not a fatal blow. Look at the schedule. Nine games remain against potential tournament teams in Texas A&M, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn, including five at Mizzou Arena. Scouring about for a silver lining, there’s the fact MU still has time on its side.
This one leaves a bruise. Mizzou spent the first 10 minutes of each half building double-digit leads, only to watch Florida winnow them down. The officiating was, frankly, atrocious — a gripe both fan bases can lodge — and proved to be the margin in a tightly-contested game. And for as valiant an effort as Mizzou put up, the selection committee ultimately cares about wins and losses.
Put simply, a missed opportunity remains a missed opportunity.
Let’s pause for a moment to talk about how Martin’s roster has been forced to adapt each month as the season has unfolded.
First, Michael Porter Jr.’s back surgery robbed Mizzou of a transcendent talent. The Tigers responded with a solid weekend, and another painful loss to West Virginia, at the AdvoCare Invitational. Next, C.J. Roberts exited, eventually landing at Texas Tech. The impact, at the time, was minimal. Martin’s squad rode a hot-hand system at point guard to get through December.
Finally, on Friday, Blake Harris revealed he also intended to transfer, leaving Missouri with just nine scholarship players and putting a potential strain on ball handling. Only this time, MU didn’t emerge from the immediate aftermath with a reassuring outcome. Now, I’m not implying Mizzou skids into a ditch, only that this is the first time this team hasn’t been buoyed by a bounce back after some adversity.
Buy Jordan Barnett a steak dinner
The senior wing’s stat line is gorged: 28 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including 6-for-9 from the 3-point arc, to go with nine rebounds in 39 minutes.
The running joke is that Barnett is the best first-half player in the SEC. On Saturday, though, he did all he could to stake Mizzou to safe leads. Go back and look at the play-by-play.
Over five minutes, Barnett stoked a 17-8 span for the Tigers, tallying 10 points during the run to help build the largest lead of the day. Midway through the second half, he teamed up (again) with Kassius Robertson during another 13-1 flurry to turn a two-point deficit into a 62-52 lead with 10:05 to play.
Slightly more than half of Barnett’s production was in service of giving Mizzou some breathing room. This is normally where I’d say Barnett could attack the rim some more, but it’s hard to quibble with the method he used on Saturday.
If there’s one critique you can offer, it’s that Barnett drifted out of the picture in the stretch run. After a pair of free throws with 10:32 to play, he didn’t attempt a shot or tally an assist the rest of the way. His lone contribution: a defensive rebound. On Twitter, we joked about how Barnett passed the baton to Kassius Robertson, but there’s a kernel of truth there, too. Unlike Wednesday at South Carolina, Robertson couldn’t close the deal.
My esteemed colleague did this autopsy.
Mizzou was up 70-62 with 6:31 to play. Down the stretch:— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) January 6, 2018
Rebounds: UF 7, Mizzou 3
FGA from Robertson/Barnett: 1
Barnett executed a heavy lift for most of Saturday, but he — and Mizzou as a whole — struggled down the stretch of this one. Undoubtedly, the call in the final minute on Robertson mattered and not having Tilmon hurt, but MU wound up in the position where poor execution on the offensive end helped magnify the impact of the whistles.
The immediate future at point guard gets dicier
For those of us who were founding members of the Blake Harris Fan Club, the past two days have been rough. Sam Snelling handled the long-range forecast at the point guard position, but we got an early glimpse at life with Robertson, Jordan Geist and Terrence Phillips splitting the job:
- Points: 19
- Field-goal percentage: 40.0 (6 of 15)
- 3-point percentage: 50.0 (3 of 6)
- Rebounds: 4
- Assists: 1
- Turnovers: 6
Keep in mind, Robertson’s bad shooting day skews the field-goal percentage. Geist actually knocked in a couple big jumpers during Mizzou’s second-half push. And while Phillips didn’t make fatal errors, he didn’t bring a jolt like he did in a close win over UCF.
As a team, Missouri logged a 17.2 turnover percentage, a number good enough to win most nights and especially against a Florida team that supplies steady on-ball pressure. On top of that, Florida was slightly less effective at converting those takeaways into offense. Entering the day, I would have been thrilled with Missouri coughing the ball up only 11 times. Toss in a 57.9-percent performance from behind the arc, and I would have felt safe saying Mizzou walks away with a win.
But this team’s fatal flaw reared its head at the worst moment. After churning through 15 seconds of clock, Jordan Geist’s soft toss was easy pickings for Chris Chiozza. Watching Chiozza glide toward the rim only drives home the necessity of settling the lead guard spot. His play in the final seconds will rightly earn replays, but Chiozza scored eight points, dished out three assists and steadily piloted UF during its rally. He also stalked and shadowed Barnett in the closing minutes on the defensive end of the floor.
Poring over Mizzou’s KenPom profile in the aftermath of this loss reveals that Robertson, Phillips and Geist all have turnover rates that outstrip their assist rate. Meanwhile, Phillips turnover rate is now higher than Harris’. Sure, a 30.3 turnover rate isn’t ideal. But among the nation’s top 25 incoming freshmen at the position, Harris’ 40.3 assist rate trailed only Trae Young and was ahead of other prospects such as Alabama’s Collin Sexton, Duke’s Trevon Duval and Kentucky’s Quade Green.
Entering the season, we hoped a new system and new staff would help Terrence Phillips take a step forward—a desire that’s gone unfulfilled. Geist’s hard-nosed style has provided some pop, but it isn’t a long-term solution. Meantime, Robertson is a true wing at his core.