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Missouri can’t finish off LSU in Baton Rouge, falls 82-78

The visiting Tigers gave it all they had, but a second-half surge gave the hosts the victory.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday night, No. 7 Duke led its struggling rival North Carolina for less than two minutes of their matchup, but a buzzer-beating jumper to end regulation and a buzzer-beating tip to end overtime helped the Blue Devils take down the Tar Heels.

David beat Goliath once upon a time, but there’s a reason that that story is a “story.” No matter how hard an overmatched team tries, it seems, the “giant” almost always comes out on top. And with Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith both ruled out once again for Missouri, the Tigers were definitely not the Goliath in this one.

LSU (18-6, 9-2 SEC) led Missouri (11-13, 3-8 SEC) for barely over five minutes Tuesday, but a late surge by the No. 25 team in the country was enough as Columbia’s Tigers fell 82-78 to the Tigers from Baton Rouge.

Despite playing the 25th-ranked team in the nation, Missouri managed to play one of its better first halves of conference play.

Missouri shot 51.6% (16-for-31) from the field and 53.8% (7-for-13) from deep throughout the half, all the while holding LSU to 43.5% (10-for-23) from the field. LSU, who admittedly isn’t a good 3-point shooting team anyway (No. 285 in 3P% according to KenPom), also took nine shots from deep but didn’t hit a single one.

Dru Smith had a quality half despite continuing to battle through an ankle injury, scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with three rebounds and an assist. Tray Jackson took advantage of Cuonzo Martin trusting him with early minutes, scoring nine points himself with two makes from beyond the arc. The visiting Tigers led in rebounds (18-12), offensive rebounds (8-3), assists (9-2), bench points (18-2) and were just minus-1 in turnovers.

So why, then, did they lead by only six points at the break? Fouls and free throws.

For the fifth straight game, Missouri reached double-digits in fouls in the first half alone. The team’s 13 fouls helped put LSU at the charity stripe 20 times, and the home Tigers — who KenPom ranks 26th in the nation in free throw percentage — knocked down 17 of them.

On the SEC Network broadcast at halftime, Martin emphasized the need for Missouri to stop fouling before heading to the locker room. So yeah, that was an issue.

Missouri did a slightly better job with fouling to start the second half, but the issue then became letting LSU get too many clean looks. In the first 5:09, Missouri committed just three fouls, but in that same time, LSU went on a 12-6 run to tie the game at 49-49, the first tie since it was 4-all. Skylar Mays scored eight points in that stretch, including LSU’s first triple of the contest.

Missouri went on a 5-point run right after on layups from Dru Smith and Reed Nikko plus a Nikko free throw, and the teams battled from there. But once again, Missouri’s foul issues came to light.

At the 11:38 mark, Mitchell Smith committed a foul, his third. Jackson had just gone to the bench with his fourth. Nikko and Dru Smith both had three fouls as well, and 10 seconds later, Nikko got called for his fourth, bringing Parker Braun into the game for the first time with Missouri up 56-54.

An ensuing 6-0 run for Missouri made it seem like it was the Tigers’ time to pull away, but when facing a Top 25 team, things can go awry in a hurry. Over the next six minutes, LSU outscored Missouri 18-7, and Darius Days hit a triple to give LSU its first lead since it was 2-1 just two minutes into the game.

Missouri stuck around, not allowing LSU’s lead to grow to more than five points, but in the end, its slingshot wasn’t strong enough to take down Goliath.