It had been quite a while since Missouri lost at home.
While it took until Wednesday for the Tigers to get a road win in conference play, Mizzou Arena was their sanctuary. Missouri had won four straight on its home court, including wins over Arkansas and Auburn, and their largest home loss of the season was a 10-point difference against Tennessee on Jan. 7.
The Tigers were blown out from the jump the last time they faced Mississippi State, but that also came on the road. They were going to get the Bulldogs on their home court Saturday, the place they’ve thrived in all season, with a chance to boost their resume and a chance to sink their opponents’ on the line.
Round 2 was a much more competitive affair than it was the first time around. Rather than the game essentially being over within the first five minutes, this one went down to the wire. Xavier Pinson had a game high 20 points — continuing his hot scoring streak over the past couple of weeks — Dru Smith had 19 and Mitchell Smith chipped in a quiet 10.
With Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith in the fold, the pieces were there for an upset win for Missouri, but the Tigers couldn’t quite close the gap and suffered a 67-63 loss.
“I just think you’ve got to get shots to go, you have to get other guys to give production. (...) We can’t have that many guys with zeros, that’s hard to win a game of that magnitude,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said.
Missouri’s offense was much more efficient in the first half than it was the first time these two teams faced off. The Tigers shot 50% on shots from inside the arc and scored over a point per possession. They valued the ball, only committing five turnovers. They even pulled down nine offensive boards.
But as has been the recent trend, they struggled on the other side of the ball.
After going almost the first full seven minutes without fouling, Missouri committed 10 in the final 13. Mississippi State shot 58.3% from the field and 42.9% from deep, and due to getting in the bonus quickly, the Bulldogs’ free throw rate was 58.33 compared to the Tigers’ 0.2. And while Reggie Perry was the guy who burned Missouri last time out, guys like DJ Stewart Jr., Tyson Carter and Robert Woodard were the ones who were putting the ball in the basket most.
“I didn’t think we set an aggressive tone in the first half, and we allowed them comfort,” Martin said.
It wasn’t getting any easier for the Tigers to slow down their opponents in the second half. At the 12:17 mark, Perry hit a jumper to put the Bulldogs up 11, their largest lead of the game. But through it all, Missouri continued to battle.
The Tigers broke off for a 9-0 run, started by Tilmon showing off his post moves from a tough layup with 11:59 and punctuated by a Mitchell Smith putback dunk two minutes later. After Carter hit a jumper to but Mississippi State up four, Dru Smith hit a shot in the paint and then had a chasedown block on the other end. Pinson grabbed the rebound and took it to the other end of the floor, where he hit a runner just outside the paint to tie it up at 53.
Though the Bulldogs got their lead back up to seven with 4:32 left in the game, Dru Smith and Pinson got it back to a 2-point game with just under a minute remaining.
But in the end, Smith and Pinson’s heroics wouldn’t be enough. Mississippi State held off Missouri just long enough to give the Tigers their first home loss in over a month.
“It’s tough. We got right there a few times and we weren’t able to get over that hump,” Dru Smith said. “But I mean, it’s just something that we have to deal with and something we have to understand that we have to continue to play the same way consistently throughout the entire game.”