All year long, Mizzou has faced adversity: the Michael Porter Jr. injury, the transfers of Blake Harris and C.J. Roberts, the dismissal of Terrence Phillips, a season-ending injury for Cullen VanLeer and, most recently, the suspension of Jordan Barnett.
The Tigers somehow managed to win 20 games and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. First-year coach Cuonzo Martin and a scrappy bunch put together a hell of a year after winning just eight games in 2017.
On Friday night, however, there was too much to overcome. Ninth-seeded Florida State topped 8-seed Missouri, 67-54, ending the Tigers’ season.
“I thought these guys had a great year,” Cuonzo Martin said, adding that he didn’t let the loss affect how proud he was of his team. More important than wins and losses to Martin is the character of the young men who make up the program. “Just show resiliency and perseverance, determination as young men.”
Mizzou (20-13) had just seven scholarship players and a walk-on available when taking the floor at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Every one of them struggled in the first half, combining to shoot 5-for-23 from the field. Most notably, Michael Porter Jr. was terribly out of sync, with just three points at the intermission.
Once again, the Tigers showed their resiliency.
They turned an enormous halftime deficit all the way down to single digit contest behind a surge led by Kassius Robertson and Porter Jr., but they ultimately faded again down the stretch. Robertson finished with 19 points in his final collegiate game while Porter Jr. had 16.
“Of course, we had higher expectations to go further, but that’s not what happened,” Robertson said as he reflected on the season. “There’s so many positives from this season and joyous moments. Playing with these guys and learning from the coaches and experiencing the atmosphere and the fans of Missouri and the support, all of those things are takeaways for me.”
Despite a disappointing outcome, no one should question the resolve, effort and toughness shown by this team. They weren’t even supposed to be here, after all. When Porter Jr. went down in November they were thought to be finished.
They refused to give up, and their freshman phenom even risked his draft stock to return for tournament play. All of that was more than what most Mizzou fans could have expected.
Let’s dive into how a surprising campaign came to a close:
There was a lot of noise surrounding Florida State’s 3-point defense coming into Friday night’s game, so it was only right that Missouri’s first two buckets came on threes.
Robertson knocked down a corner triple for the game’s opening points before Jordan Geist put the Tigers ahead 6-1 on a step-back long ball. From there, however, they struggled getting past FSU’s length on the perimeter and finishing at the rim, leading to a nearly four-minute drought.
Mizzou’s offensive lull resulted in an 11-0 Seminoles spurt to take a five-point lead. Brett Rau finally put the cold spell to an end by finishing a tough and-1 layup, but PJ Savoy had found his rhythm and stroked his second consecutive three in response.
Missouri went three minutes without another field goal, allowing FSU’s lead to swell to as large as 10 points. Robertson cut it to five on a 3-pointer after a pair of Kevin Puryear free throws. CJ Walker answered with back-to-back layups with the second coming after he picked Geist’s pockets at halfcourt.
Porter Jr. had put up just one shot through 12 minutes of gametime: a three which he airballed. That changed on a step-through and finish at the rim, but then he got stuffed on a put-back layup attempt a few moments later and airballed once again on a mid range jumper.
“I feel like I was second-guessing myself,” Porter Jr. said. “That was hard for me. It was really frustrating at times, but I honestly did the best that I could do at this point. [I was] probably like 65-70 [percent].”
Porter Jr. drew a foul after getting a steal, but missed the free throw. The freshman standout simply wasn’t himself — something that the Tigers couldn’t afford. Missouri shot just 25 percent in the first period and committed four more turnovers than they made field goals.
Meanwhile, FSU was displaying the epitome of team-ball. Ten different Seminoles scored and FSU closed the half on a 13-0 run to take a 22-point advantage into the break.
Mizzou opened the second half on a 7-0 run behind a three-point play by Porter Jr. and a Robertson 3-pointer. The Canisius graduate transfer made another triple after an FSU free throw to bring the Tigers’ bench to its feet.
Normally that kind of surge may have been enough to put Missouri ahead in a game. Instead, it brought them within 13 points. The Tigers went on a 7-0 run after falling behind by 15 and a Robertson 3-pointer made it 50-42.
“I can sleep at night,” Martin said of his team’s effort. “Yeah, we lost the game, but I can sleep at night with that second half. That looked like us. We learned from it. We moved forward.”
Porter Jr. made two free throws to pull Mizzou within six but fouled Phil Cofer on a 3-point attempt. The play ignited a 15-0 FSU run that extended its lead back to 21 points and iced the game.
Florida State (21-11) will face top-seeded Xavier (29-5) on Sunday while Mizzou awaits the draft decisions of the Porter brothers.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Porter Jr. said when asked whether he’d return to Missouri for another season. “I’m thinking about the team. I’m feeling for the team right now and not worrying about myself.”