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Cold spells cut Missouri’s SEC Tournament stay short

Michael Porter Jr.’s first full game as a Tiger was a frustrating one, and Mizzou’s seniors couldn’t find the bottom of the basket in a 62-60 Georgia win.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Missouri vs Georgia Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter trapped a Georgia player along the baseline, extending their lanky arms straight up and leaving him with nowhere to go. He just barely managed to get the ball to a teammate, and it led to a Bulldogs miss.

Porter Jr. secured the rebound with both hands before passing the ball to his brother. Jontay took a couple dribbles before dropping a bounce pass back to Michael.

More than three months after the season-opener, No. 13 scored his second bucket as a Tiger on a smooth, gliding lay-in. The sequence was something that Mizzou fans had been robbed of seeing all year long due to Porter Jr.’s back injury.

The wonder of the moment was short-lived, however, in a 62-60 Georgia win. Yante Maten scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a dominating performance.

Porter Jr. finished with 12 points on five of 17 shooting. Cuonzo Martin wasn’t surprised. “We knew as a staff [that] him coming back, it probably wouldn’t flow as well,” he said.

Both Jeremiah Tilmon and Kevin Puryear fouled out of the game and left the Tigers’ bench extremely thin. “I think, because of foul trouble, we put [Porter Jr.] in some spots that probably he wasn’t accustomed to from the time he was practicing,” Martin added.

Jontay Porter had the best game of any Tiger by far as he scored 20 points and grabbed eight boards. “The encouraging part for us is he’s the only one who really had a good offensive game,” Porter Jr. said. “We played, to me, about as bad as we’ve played offensively, besides him, as we have all year. We got some things we got to fix, but it’s small things. We were just missing shots.”

With 17:22 to go in the first half, Porter approached the scorer’s table to check into the game. The crowd at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis — filled with mostly Mizzou fans — rose to its feet.

The energy sparked a 10-0 Missouri run after both teams had gone scoreless in the first couple minutes. After a Tilmon layup that put the Tigers up 12-3, though, their offense came to a halt.

Mizzou (20-12, 9-8 SEC) missed 14 shots in a row, went on an eight-minute scoring drought, and fell behind by seven points after a 16-0 Georgia run. Maten had the hot hand for the Bulldogs (18-14, 7-11), scoring 10 points and knocking down two 3-pointers.

Missouri started just 5-for-26 from the field, with Porter Jr. taking and missing the most shots. The Tigers were settling for a ton of jumpers, and very few of them were going in. Meanwhile, Georgia had been pounding it inside and drew 14 fouls that led to 10 free throws.

“Again, when he left the game he was one of the best players in college basketball,” Martin said when asked about Porter Jr.’s cold shooting. “You don’t come back and say ‘Okay, well I’m gonna fit into a role.’ His mindset is still the same. He’s still the same person. It’s just he’s maybe a step slow. Instead of a 40-inch [vertical], it’s 37. It’s all those things and then really going through it.”

Porter made a triple that cut his team’s deficit to four points, but the Bulldogs finished the half on a 7-2 run and led Mizzou 33-24 at the break. After posting just nine points and two rebounds last time around against the Tigers, Maten had 14 points and five boards in the first half alone.

William Jackson II kicked off the second half with a 3-pointer, pushing Georgia’s lead to 12 points. Robertson scored his first bucket of the game on a layup before Porter drew a flagrant foul and split the ensuing free throws.

Tilmon threw down a two-handed putback slam, MPJ made a layup, and Jordan Geist finished at the rim to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to four points. Tyree Crump knocked down a tough baseline jumper, but Porter made a straight-away three in response. Robertson drained a step-back triple on the next play to tie the game at 39.

Jackson put Georgia right back ahead, however, with a reverse layup, and Crump extended the lead on a 3-pointer after a Robertson turnover. Barnett missed an open look and the Bulldogs made yet another three to go back up by eight points.

Missouri cut the deficit to five points twice in the next few minutes, but Georgia had an answer each time. The physical Bulldogs were out-hustling their opponent while making them work for every single point.

Porter Jr. and Robertson scored on back-to-back layups to get the Tigers back within four points and Geist made the score 59-57 on free throws. Maten knocked down a mid-range jumper and drew a charge that fouled Tilmon out on the next play.

Porter Jr. knocked down a huge 3-pointer that brought Mizzou within one point with a minute to go, but missed another one that would have taken the lead with 17 seconds left. Robertson had a chance to tip it in but missed as well. Georgia split the following free throws, but Nicolas Claxton secured an offensive rebound on the miss and got fouled.

Claxton missed both, however, giving the Tigers one last chance. Robertson missed an open 3-pointer from the corner, ending the game. Robertson and Barnett finished with just 10 points on 4-for-18 shooting.

“It wasn’t frustrating,” Robertson said of his struggles. “I was frustrated that we were losing. I’m not really worried about the touches. We weren’t losing because I wasn’t touching the ball, that’s not the reason. We were losing because we were giving up baskets.”

Georgia will face Kentucky (21-10, 10-8) at 2:30 p.m. CT on Friday in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. Missouri will await its NCAA Tournament draw on Sunday.

“I think we’ll be fine because now they’ve had a chance to play with [Porter Jr.],” Martin said when asked about the team becoming more cohesive without having any additional games before the tourney. “I’m glad he actually got it out of the way, [now] we can move forward.”