“I’m pissed off at this loss”, Xavier Pinson’s uttered in tonight’s press conference.
“...it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating”, Dru Smith added.
Tonight’s rubber match in Nashville versus the Arkansas Razorbacks was hard fought, but ultimately a disappointing defeat.
Missouri made it their mission not to let Arkansas run away with things out the gate, and strong play early on helped them carry a slight lead into the second media timeout of the first half. The Tigers did an excellent job dictating the pace of play in the first leg of tonight’s competition, taking time on their offensive possessions, and getting up the floor in transition. Missouri certainly opened tonight as the aggressor, as they outscored the Hogs 14-2 inside the paint to begin play.
Things would change, however.
Moses Moody, Arkansas’ primary point producer, was stunted all night long, as he only managed to muster two points through the first half, and five total on the night. With Moody locked up, the Razorbacks needed a spark from someone else, and JD Notae elected to fill that position. Notae stepped up tremendously for Arkansas, as he and the Razorbacks successfully broke down Missouri’s first half double-digit margin, taking the lead for the first time on an imposing 16-0 run that started with 7:58 left in the half. “He had two deep threes early, and I think that got his confidence up”, Coach Martin said in the post-game.
Notae had an impressive 16 first half points and 27 on the night coming off the bench, a firsthand example as to why he was named the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year.
“I wish we could put Dru Smith on him, but he can’t guard everybody,” Coach Martin said at the half.
While many have praised Tilmon’s play since his return, Cuonzo Martin has expressed he wants to see more out of Missouri’s big man. With Mitchell Smith picking up his third personal foul before the first half’s end, the stage was set for Tilmon to go to work. Tilly demanded the ball on the block, and rightfully so. Arkansas elected to play a fair amount of small ball tonight, which heavily favored Missouri in the matchup department.
“It might get annoying throwing the ball into Tilly,” Pinson explained in the post-game, “... but we just have to, one hundred percent have to, get him the ball.” Tilmon had nine first half points for the Tigers, and got to line three separate times, though his production would deflate.
Javon Pickett rang home a triple for the Tigers in the dying minute of the first half to put Missouri up 33-32 headed into the break. The Tigers looked like they had a chance to blow the Hogs out the water early on, but by intermission, it was clear Missouri was in a dog fight.
The back and forth action carried over into the second half, though Missouri looked a bit indecisive at times on offense. Had it not been for a plethora of turnovers, the Razorbacks could have created a lot more separation on the scoreboard. Missouri remained disciplined defensively, though. Dru Smith put his body on the line all night, and was rewarded with three charge calls. Charges were actually a dime a dozen all game long, and by night’s end, there were a grand total of 17 offensive fouls called between both teams.
“I don’t think I’ve been a part of a game with that many offensive fouls,” Martin said in the post-game. “They called it both ways, but I’ve never seen that many in a game.”
The score remained close as the half grudged on, but the Tigers found themselves in trouble at the ten and a half minute mark, as Tilmon picked up his fourth personal foul. Mitchell Smith also played with four fouls for an extended period of time, before fouling out with seven points. The Razorbacks wasted very little time getting to the double bonus.
Arkansas found themselves in the midst of an 13-1 run elapsing nearly five minutes, which thrust them to a 10 point lead. “There was a bit of a momentum shift there in the second half,” Dru Smith explained. “They have a lot of guys who can put the ball on the floor.”
Towards the end of that run, Jeremiah Tilmon went to the bench after recording his fifth personal foul. His presence seemingly disappeared once the second half started, as he was unable to record a point. “We needed to get more out of Tilly,” Coach Martin expressed.
That draining Razorback run was what put the Tigers in the dirt, as Missouri wouldn’t lead again.
With their two centers on the bench, Missouri had to carry on with Parker Braun. Though the 6’8” sophomore hadn’t seen the hardwood all night, he made an immediate impact once checking into the game, helping defensively, as well as hitting two free throws and canning a three ball to cut the lead to five.
Arkansas’ Justin Smith fouled out on the other end in the waning minutes, allowing Missouri to get to the line once more, and they trimmed the Hogs’ lead down just three. Unfortunately, JD Notae responded with a ridiculously difficult finish on the other end to keep the Razorbacks up two possessions. That bucket from Notae served as the nail in the coffin.
The game’s final minute predominately took place from the charity stripe, as the Tigers looked for a miraculous comeback that just didn’t happen.
Missouri dropped to Arkansas 70-64, eliminating them from the SEC tournament. Tiger fans must now anxiously wait for Selection Sunday to see who and where their team will play next.