“Hello darkness, my old friend.”
Replace “darkness” from this opening line of a Simon & Garfunkel song with “15-3 deficit before the 16-minute mark,” and you have exactly what Missouri (4-3) must have been thinking in the early stages of its matchup with Oklahoma (6-1) on Tuesday.
The Sooners came out of the gate even hotter than Butler did Monday night, going 5-for-5 with three 3-pointers from Brady Manek as they built their 12-point lead, with only a triple from Dru Smith for the Tigers keeping it from being a 15-0 affair.
Oklahoma hit another three shots before missing its first shot of the night, and by then Missouri trailed 23-10. Though the Tigers held the Sooners to just 6 of 23 shooting the rest of the half, they couldn’t take advantage and — for the second night in a row — faced a 12-point deficit at halftime.
The lesson here is Missouri has to come out of the gates playing to win. The Tigers don’t seem as aggressive to start the first half as they do in the second, and it has shown on back-to-back nights.
Though Missouri did end up losing the game 77-66, there are at least some positives to take away.
The team proved it has the defensive chops to keep good teams from scoring for long stretches of time. That includes a long shooting-slump for the Sooners, who shot just 9-for-38 from the end of their 8-for-8 stretch to start the game to over halfway through the second half.
If the offense had found a way to take advantage of Oklahoma’s shooting woes during that time, this game story could be completely different. But only one Tiger stepped up on the offensive side of the ball in the first half, and that was the same player who’s struggled to score all season — Torrence Watson.
Watson scored nine points in the first half on 3 of 4 shooting from deep and finished with a season-high 11 points.
Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith — scoring just two points each in the first half — came alive to finish with 13 points and 18 points, respectively, as Missouri mounted a comeback effort in the second half.
The Tigers trimmed the Sooners’ lead to as little as one with 10:00 left in the game when two free throws from Smith made it 49-48. The game stayed within three points over the next three minutes, but an 8-0 run for Oklahoma pushed the lead back to 11.
Missouri got the lead back down to seven after a Tilmon free throw and a Smith 3-pointer, but Oklahoma once again answered with a 40 second, 6-0 run to put the game back out of reach.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin kept the bench short in the second half, with just seven players seeing the floor and only five playing double-digit minutes. Of those who didn’t see the floor during the comeback attempt, Xavier Pinson is the most notable.
Even when fellow point guard Dru Smith went to the bench with four fouls, Martin didn’t bring Pinson back in, and instead ran with Mark Smith at the point. Martin said postgame Pinson hurt his knee prior to the second half and the training staff ruled him out, though his playmaking definitely would’ve added to the Tigers’ comeback attempt.