Despite the best efforts of Dru Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon, the Missouri Tigers bowed out of the NCAA tournament in a hard-fought battle on Saturday night at the hands of another dynamic duo, Austin Reaves and Brady Manek of Oklahoma.
The Tigers started off hot from the field taking an early 7-point advantage, but as expected in March OU battled right back and the Tigers held a slim one-point advantage going into halftime.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, old habits die hard, and like many times before this season, they started the second half slow.
In the first four minutes of the half, Manek scored 8 points that featured in a 12-2 run. Manek gave the Tigers problems all night with his ability to stretch the floor as the Sooners’ biggest player, but the determined Tigers were not going down easy.
In desperate need of a response to the haymaker Oklahoma threw out of intermission, the Tigers threw one right back by going on their own 12-2 run. Featuring buckets from all 5 players on the floor, the Tigers were able to regain their one-point lead, but only momentarily. One notable omission from this run was Xavier Pinson, who found himself on the bench for all but four minutes of the second half as Drew Buggs was handed the keys to the offense instead.
“I just thought [Buggs] did a good job of executing,” said Mizzou HC Cuonzo Martin, “I also think he did a great job of stepping up to the challenge to defend.”
The two teams went back and forth giving each other their best blow. Jeremiah Tilmon gave the Tigers 16 points and Dru Smith added 20, but OU countered with 19 from Manek and 23 from Reaves. It was going to come down to who would blink first.
It looked like Mizzou was going to be that team when they went without a field goal from 6:16 to 1:50 left in the game. But no game is over till the final buzzer sounds, especially in March.
With 1:08 to play, Austin Reaves scored 2 of his game-leading 23 points at the free-throw line to put his Sooners up 8 and put what seemed to be a nail in the Tigers’ coffin. However, with so little time left, the Tigers threw their final punch of the fight.
In the blink of an eye, Dru Smith, the Tigers’ leading scorer on the day, drained two improbable threes against tough defense to cut the lead back down to two with 0:46 left. Now, the Tigers just needed one stop and they’d get to play for OT, and they got their chance when an otherwise prolific Austin Reaves turned the ball over with less than 20 seconds to play.
The scoreboard read 70-67, and the Tigers just needed to get a good look from three, but chaos ensued. Dru Smith was doubled and forced to pass and the Tigers narrowly escaped turning the ball over before Drew Buggs was fouled intentionally with 0:02 to prevent a 3-point attempt. From that point, the game was a formality. The Tigers never got the chance to tie the game.
“[This team] is a group that fights and they give themselves a chance to win the game,” said Cuonzo Martin after the game, “Time just ran out.”