When a team breaks the Southeastern Conference record and comes oh so close to breaking the NCAA record for consecutive free throws made without a miss, one wouldn’t expect that team to lose, and definitely not by double-digits. The game is supposed to be won or lost at the free throw line, right?
Alas, Missouri (9-8, 1-4 SEC) found another way to defy the odds against Alabama (10-7, 3-2 SEC) in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
The Tigers were lights out from the charity stripe, hitting 31 on 31 attempts, but that was really all that worked for them offensively for most of the afternoon. In the first half, Missouri went almost 11 minutes without making a shot. In the second half, the Tigers missed 16 of their last 19 field goal attempts.
Against a hot-shooting team like the Crimson Tide, a historic day from the line isn’t always going to cut it, and Alabama’s 13 3-pointers to Missouri’s 5 made the difference as the Tigers fell 88-74.
Free throws were the only reason this game didn’t resemble Tuesday’s loss to Mississippi State.
Missouri scored just 20 points in the first half of that game and trailed by 20 heading into the break. Alabama was about as hot as the Bulldogs, and especially from long range, where the Tide hit 11 of 25 shots in the half. The Tigers, meanwhile shot 33% from 3-point range and overall from the floor.
Usually, allowing 47 points in one half would spell doom for this offensively-challenged Missouri team, but the Tigers began to drive the lane aggressively and, in turn, moved to the charity stripe. In total, Missouri shot 21 free throws in the half, and made every single one.
And that was a good thing, too, because the Tigers had their worst shooting stretch of the season.
At the 18:25 mark, Dru Smith made a layup to give Missouri a 5-3 lead. After that, the Tigers didn’t hit a field goal for 10 minutes, 47 seconds. In that drought, Missouri missed nine straight shots. However, due to the newfound focus on driving the ball, the Tigers went to the line 12 times during that stretch and made every one. By the time Xavier Pinson finally ended the field goal drought with an and-one layup with 7:38 left in the half, Alabama had only managed an eight-point lead.
Missouri, though, couldn’t claw much closer than that to end the half. The Tigers started hitting layups and 3s in addition to their free throws, but the Tide lit it up from long range, including hitting four straight to end the half with a 47-40 lead.
And the second didn’t start off too great for Missouri, either.
For the first four minutes, the Tigers could muster up only four points as Alabama built a 12-point lead. But at the 16:01 mark, things began to turn in Missouri’s favor.
Reed Nikko tried to pass to Torrence Watson along the left wing but threw it away, and Kira Lewis Jr. came up with the ball. Lewis drove the ball in the lane, but Dru Smith was right there to draw the charge.
As the game went into a media timeout, Alabama coach Nate Oats was called for a technical foul for arguing the charge. Pinson stepped to the line after the break and knocked down both free throws, but he missed a jumper in the lane on the ensuing possession. Not to be denied, though, Nikko hauled in the offensive board, and Dru Smith drained a second-chance 3-pointer for a five-point possession.
In total, the Tigers outscored the Tide 16-7 over 4:16 to cut the lead to 63-60.
The knock against Missouri is that it doesn’t have a go-to scorer down the stretch, and that showed against Alabama.
The Tigers managed just six points over the last 7:30. Mark Smith missed a couple of wide open 3s. Nikko and Mitchell Smith combined for the team’s only three buckets over that stretch. And even though free throws had been Missouri’s best offense all day, the team didn’t shoot a free throw after Pinson knocked two of them down with 7:34 to play.
Lewis and John Petty Jr., meanwhile, combined for the last 13 Crimson Tide points down the stretch as the Tigers dropped their fourth SEC matchup of the year.