Cuonzo Martin is not one to focus on moral victories. Despite plenty of positives to take away from Missouri’s 63-58 overtime loss at No. 21 Xavier Tuesday night, Martin will almost certainly be tormented by the negatives.
There was the 27-12 first half hole the Tigers dug themselves into, thanks to two quick fouls on Jeremiah Tilmon.
Then there was the open three-point shot afforded to Xavier’s Naji Marshall with 26 seconds left, who buried the Musketeers’ first and only three of the second half to tie the game.
Then there was Tilmon missing the front end of a one-and-one in overtime, and later being called for goaltending.
In the end, Missouri showed plenty of flashes after a rough start, but could not overcome its mistakes. However, it would be silly to overlook the positives that can be taken from this game.
For starters, Dru Smith looked every bit the player he was billed to be since his arrival at Missouri. After a rough start, Smith became a steady hand running the offense alongside Xavier Pinson, finishing with 22 points and four assists. Defensively, Smith also snagged 10 rebounds and made all eight of his free throws, several of which came in pressure-cooked situations down the stretch.
After picking up two quick fouls in the first half, Jeremiah Tilmon played with great discipline in the second half, staying on the court with three fouls for what seemed like forever.
Team discipline, however, suffered in the dying moments of regulation. After allowing the game-tying shot, the Tigers were unable to get a good shot off in the last 26 seconds. After Xavier used its last two fouls to give, 5.3 seconds remained.
The Tigers looked for Dru Smith under the basket, but he was well-guarded, and the ball went to Mark Smith in the corner, who shot quickly and off balance, almost as if the clock read 0.5 instead of 5.3. It was a shot that will be tough to watch in the film room.
The Tigers were in position to win the game all the way until the very end against a ranked road opponent, and the team can point to these first three regular season games as evidence of legitimate improvement since last season.
Simply put, the shooting will have to be better. The Tigers shot just 6-25 from three for the night. Mark Smith missed his first six and finished 2-9. Kobe Brown and Xavier Pinson both went ohfer from three, going 0-4 and 0-3, respectively.
It was only game 3, so the phrase “the shots will come,” may hold some merit. However, the Tigers can’t have nearly as much comfort with the number of turnovers, which at times seemed as big of an issue as ever during Cuonzo Martin’s tenure. Specifically during the first half, the Tigers turned the ball over 13 times, resulting in the majority of the first half being incredibly painful to watch. Credit is due to Missouri for rebounding and finishing the half on a 9-1 run, setting the stage for a competitive second half and overtime period.
Xavier managed to ice the game with free throws, going 10-12 from the line in the overtime period. The Tigers will rue the offensive mistakes made in the overtime period: a dropped pass from Tray Jackson out of bounds and Tilmon’s missed front end of the one-and-one followed with a goaltending sequence.
Despite the loss, Missouri will have its chances to rebound. The Tigers will return home for matchups next Monday against Wofford and Wednesday against Morehead State, followed by the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.