Maybe you’re the type of fan who is red in the face and white-knuckled after a game like that. Or maybe you’re just tired of the same old mistakes appearing again, reserved to quiet disappointment.
That was FRUSTRATING. FRUSTRATING. FRUSTRATING. Three times for proper effect.
The slow start. The vanishing output from three. Zero points from Jeremiah Tilmon. The failure to make timely plays when the game was still within reach. All of it.
The error-filled start out of the gate was so reminiscent of many in Missouri’s not-so-distant past that it almost seemed like it had to be rehearsed. Defensive breakdowns. Offensive chaos. Answers nowhere to be found, and a run ended by a mercifully-called timeout by Cuonzo Martin.
After a disastrous opening eight minutes, everything lined up perfectly for Missouri to get back into this game, and I mean perfectly.
After being unconscious from three, Butler leveled off. The Bulldogs started 5-7, and went just 3-17 the rest of the way, including missing their last eight from deep.
There lies the problem. Despite the other team going cold, the Tigers’ offense struggled mightily to generate. Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson dribbled around on many possessions where there was just not much there. Smith and Pinson finished with 17 points and 10 points, respectively, and several of their buckets were self-generated.
Smith and Pinson were able help rally the Tigers into making the game competitive. After the rough start, boosted by the efforts of the freshman forwards, Missouri clawed back into the game.
“We just know we’ve got to keep fighting even when we do get down. When we do get it down to nine, eight, we’ve got to get those crucial stops, those crucial rebounds,” Smith said.
When Smith and Pinson looked for somewhere to throw the ball, it was often limited to playing keep away on the perimeter. Butler deserves credit here for their interior defense, as Tilmon was rendered completely ineffective.
Normally, Tilmon’s departure has hurt the Tigers due to the loss of offensive production. Not tonight, because the center was defended relentlessly by the Bulldogs, going scoreless on the night. “There was no production from Jeremiah tonight,” Martin said plainly after the game.
All the offensive bleeding aside, the Tigers STILL had every chance to get on level terms in the second half. Missouri outshot Butler in the second half, 54.5% to 36%.
Unfortunately, not a single one of the Tigers’ made field goals was from three. Mark Smith missed a couple of open shots that would have made things really interesting. Smith finished with just four points.
While it was frustrating, tonight was not a disaster for the Tigers. For a good chunk of both halves, Missouri was battling even with Butler, cutting the lead to single digits with a handful of mini-runs. The stops on defense came, but the big shots never fell.
The Bulldogs iced the game thanks to three crucial offensive rebounds as the clock was winding down, and the Tigers shot themselves in the foot with two misses on the front end of one-and-ones.
On nights like this, facing an experienced team with weapons like Butler, the shots simply have to fall. The Tigers won’t have much time to think about this one. Either Oklahoma or Stanford, both talented teams, will be waiting tomorrow.
There is still an opportunity to salvage this tournament with a quality win, but with another game like tonight, a sad bus ride back to Columbia will be waiting.