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Tigers can’t quite scale halftime deficit in loss to Temple

Missouri made a valiant second-half comeback attempt, but couldn’t dig itself out of the hole it made through turnovers

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Torrence Watson’s first points of the game came on a much needed 3-pointer with 1:15 to play in the first half. Temple had been on a 10-1 run to take an eight-point lead. The freshman’s basket gave faint stirrings of life to a Mizzou Arena crowd that had grown steadily quieter as the night progressed. Missouri forced a missed shot on the defensive end and seemed poised to grab momentum heading into the locker room.

But Mark Smith didn’t see De’Vondre Perry pounce from behind to grab the ball. The Owls sophomore seemed to get a chunk of Smith as he snatched the ball away, but no whistle was blown. Perry cruised down the floor and rose up for an emphatic slam, sucking the life out of the home crowd.

Such was the story for the Tigers in their 79-77 loss to Temple on Tuesday: Cuonzo Martin’s squad was never quite out of the game, but rarely threatened to overtake the Owls, either, after they began their first-half run with just under four minutes remaining. Missouri drew within three points after halftime on several occasions, but every time it seemed to gain an edge, they came down with a case of turnovers, or Temple simply hit a couple of big shots.

A couple of Tigers proved to be bright spots. Smith continued his hot start to the year, scoring 19 points on seven-for-10 shooting, including three-for-five beyond the arc. Kevin Puryear scored 16 and shot .500 from the field and from 3-point range.

Jeremiah Tilmon had a slow first half before reaching 14 points and 10 rebounds. Javon Pickett had a quiet but solid game, going three-of-five for eight points with a 3-pointer and steal in addition to a few deflections.

Missouri shot over 50 percent for the game, including 57.9 percent from downtown.

Missouri opened the game running its offense at a quicker pace than usual, which helped to get a few looks inside for players such as Puryear and Tilmon. Temple adjusted quickly, and Tilmon struggled to hold onto the ball against the double-teams the Owls began sending his way.

The teams went back and forth until Tilmon made two free throws to give the Tigers a 28-26 lead late in the first half. Two things changed in the period’s waning moments and led to Temple’s big run: Missouri reverted to its usual form of shaky ball security and Temple began cashing in on some open looks.

“The defense tightened up,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We didn’t allow any second-chance opportunities and we guarded their shooters better than we had in the first part of the game.”

To that point, the Tigers had only committed five turnovers. They committed five more in four minutes to end the first half, all of which resulted in baskets. Missouri allowed 15 turnovers altogether resulting in 20 Temple points. Point guards Jordan Geist and Xavier Pinson were the main culprits: Each gave the ball away four times. Meanwhile, the Tigers forced only five Temple turnovers.

“We have guys that can make shots,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I go back to the turnovers. And it’s just hard while you’re growing as a defensive team. Because you don’t give yourself a chance to win games. That’s the part that’s hard for me.”

“We’re just not going to be a good team turning the ball over like that,” Puryear added. “There’s no way around it.”

By the time Temple’s Shizz Alston Jr. hit an off-the-dribble, step-back 3-pointer with four seconds remaining, the Owls had built a 42-32 lead. This Tigers team has made a pattern of losing control during the closing minutes of opening halves.

“I wouldn’t contribute that to anything,” Puryear said. “If it is, I really don’t know exactly what it is. Can’t really put my finger on it. All I know is that we need to play 40 complete minutes of basketball.”

Missouri came out guns blazing after the break, scoring 13 points in the first three minutes of the second half. The Tigers eventually clipped the lead to three points before turnovers reared their ugly head once more, halting the team’s progress.

One sequence was especially representative of Missouri’s evening. With less than 12 minutes to play, Temple hit a 3-pointer to extend its lead to eight. Mitchell Smith then failed to find a semi-open Mark Smith on the ensuing inbound pass, instead forcing the ball to a tightly covered Pinson. The freshman couldn’t control Smith’s pass and the ball bounced straight to J.P. Moorman II, who collected and deposited it for an easy Temple basket. Mark Smith took the next inbound pass and forced it to a double-covered Pinson, who dribbled the ball off his leg, rolling it directly into the arms of Alani Moore II. Moore missed the 3-pointer, but the sloppy play added to a long catalogue during a game where any play could have made the difference.

“There’s really no excuse for that, so I’m not going to make one,” Puryear said. “We just (weren’t) organized. That has nothing to do with coaching. That’s on us.”

The Tigers made one final charge. Temple led 70-58 with seven minutes to go, but Missouri cleaned up on the boards and slowly chipped away at the lead, cutting it as low as two with 2:26, 1:34 and 0:15 left to play. Every time, it was followed immediately afterward with an Owls basket (or pair of free throws).

Temple was just good enough to keep Missouri on the other side every time it seemed they might push over the hump.

The Tigers return to action against Central Florida at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Mizzou Arena.