Losing close games has become a trademark of the 2022 Missouri Tigers. They seem to never be able to get on the right side of things, and Tuesday night was no exception.
Trailing by 14 in the second half, it looked like the Tigers were on the fast track to their 20th defeat of this season. Shooting just 40% in the game with 15 turnovers was a major contributing factor to that scoreline, but the Tigers weren’t quite done.
With their backs against the wall, Cuonzo Martin delivered this challenge to his team. “Let’s maintain our composure,” he said. “Maintain our commitment to each other, just do what we are supposed to, and more importantly maintain our competitive spirits,” and they responded.
Slowly but surely a tough Missouri defense and some timely buckets willed the Tigers back into the game. 14 second half points of a career-high 23 from Javon Pickett were a big contribution to the comeback, but no contribution was bigger than Kobe Brown’s 19 points, all of which he scored in the second half. Brown also scored the Tigers’ final 5 baskets.
After the game Martin said he personally challenged Brown to step up his game to the level he found in the second half. “I just challenged him, you’re a high level talent, guys can’t knock the ball out of your hands. If they are knocking the ball out of your hands there should be blood somewhere.”
Behind the two-headed monster of Pickett and Brown, who scored 33 of the Tigers’ 43 second half points, Missouri was able to cut the once 14 point lead to just 4 at the under-8 timeout.
“In the first half, I kinda forced a few things,” Pickett said of his second half performance. “In the second half, I just let the game flow. I was able to get to the free throw line a few times and teammates found me.”
With South Carolina on their heels, the Tigers continued to chip away at the Gamecocks’ lead, and with 1:34 left in the game, Missouri trailed by just 1. But that’s where things went south.
Immediately, South Carolina answered with an and-1 from their start freshman Devin Carter, who finished with 17 on the night. On the very next possession, Brown made one of his few errors of the second half when he dribbled the basketball off his foot, and South Carolina proceeded to get to the free-throw line by way of Boogie Coleman’s fifth foul.
“Once we started to play defense, that led to some offense,” Pickett explained. “But at the end we let them get to the rim and there were some unnecessary fouls.”
Now trailing by 6 and without their primary ball-handler, it seemed like the writing was on the wall for Missouri’s comeback. However, Kobe Brown refused to back down, scoring 10 points in the final 30 seconds for the Tigers. Still, it wasn’t enough, and Missouri fell 73-69.