The game developed differently this time. There were less turnovers, and the Tigers played at their preferred pace for the entire game. But the story was still a familiar one for Missouri and its fans.
The Tigers failed to hold on for what could have been their best victory of the season despite holding a double-digit lead in the second half.
Missouri (12-14, 3-11 SEC) lost to Florida (16-11, 8-6 SEC) 64-60 in Gainesville on Saturday. The team held a 12-point with 17 minutes left in the second half, but a Jeremiah Tilmon foul ignited an immediate reversal in the course of the game. It was the fourth time in the last 10 contests that the Tigers lost after leading by at least 12 points. Mark Smith, who played in the last two games, was once again inactive with a nagging foot/ankle injury.
Jordan Geist led Missouri with 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting. Javon Pickett was the only other Tiger in double figures, scoring 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting in addition to team-highs in rebounds (six) and steals (three).
KeVaughn Allen scored a game-high 17 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field. Keyontae Johnson and Jalen Hudson added 13 and 11 points, respectively. The Gators enjoyed a massive advantage at the free throw line, sinking 25 of 30 shots compared to Missouri’s 8 of 13.
Tilmon struggled with foul trouble for the third straight game, committing his second infraction — a flagrant — with 6:44 to go in the first half, his fourth — also a flagrant — with 16:59 to play and his fifth with 4:35 left to go. The sophomore played 15 minutes. While Reed Nikko provided solid defense in his absence, the Tigers’ offense lacked rhythm, especially in the second half, without an interior presence to draw attention away from the perimeter.
One reason Missouri managed to play the Gators so tight, especially considering how much the team has struggled against pressure at times this season, was its ability to navigate Florida’s full-court trap press. The Tigers committed only 10 turnovers, their lowest total since Feb. 5.
Missouri increased the lead to 40-28 after Tilmon made the correct pass out of a double team, and the Tigers rotated the ball along the perimeter until they found Geist for the open trey. Immediately after the ball left his hands, however, Tilmon committed a flagrant foul that caused Cuonzo Martin to remove him from the game for almost 10 minutes. The ensuing pair of free throws sparked a 14-3 run, which included a rare Martin technical foul, that brought the Gators within one point. Missouri itself made only one of four free throws during this stretch.
Geist finally halted Florida’s momentum with a fadeaway off the glass, and the teams traded baskets for a while. A Locke 3-pointer with 7:11 remaining gave Florida a 53-52 lead, its first advantage since 11:34 was left in the first half. The Tigers responded with a pair of baskets, before Xavier Pinson ran into Allen below the rim for his fifth foul, while the latter dropped in a layup to cut the deficit to one. He missed the free throw.
After Florida hit a pair of free throws to once again grab the lead, Tilmon followed Pinson to the bench when he bulldozed Johnson for an off-ball offensive foul. After Florida fans taunted him while he walked to his seat, Tilmon introduced them to his middle finger before sitting down.
The Tigers cut the lead to one twice more — on a Geist turnaround and a Nikko tip-in. But Nikko, who was fouled on the play, missed the free throw, and Missouri couldn’t get two solid looks to fall in the closing seconds.
After Florida tied the game at 15, Pinson and Torrence Watson quickly responded with one trey apiece. Gators coach Mike White called timeout, and his team responded by cutting the lead to 23-21 with 5:23 remaining in the first half.
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to regain control. After a Watson trey and Pickett layup, Nikko stood up Allen in the post, forcing a turnover which resulted in a three-on-one led by Pickett. The freshman found Geist at the rim, who made the shot through a foul and converted on the ensuing free throw. The Tigers took a 33-24 lead at halftime after Geist, playing in a five-guard lineup coming out of a Missouri timeout, hit a floater with one second remaining.
Tilmon scored Missouri’s first six points, propelling the Tigers to an 8-4 lead at the under-16 timeout. However, Florida struck back with a 7-2 run to take its first lead of the game. Watson and Geist each took highly contested shots at the end of fake shot clock countdowns shouted by Gator fans. As the fans wound down a third time, however, Pickett stood open on the arc and splashed a 3 to avoid the pretend shot clock violation and retake the lead.
The Tigers will wrap up their toughest four-game stretch of the season with a trip to Starkville, Mississippi, to face Mississippi State at 6 p.m. Tuesday.