After managing to take down Ole Miss for the third time this season, Missouri got another shot at LSU in the second round. The 12-seeded Tigers played a complete game against the Rebels yesterday, and they were looking to keep that momentum going against an LSU team looking to bolster its NCAA Tournament seeding with a strong showing in the conference tournament.
In their February meeting (the only matchup of the year), LSU shot 51% from the field and Mizzou turned the ball over 19 times in a 20-point defeat. Now, at a neutral site, both sides aimed to advance to the quarterfinals.
For Mizzou, every game in the SEC Tournament was a must-win, or the season was over.
The start to this game dictated how the rest went.
LSU came into this game fielding the #1 defense in the SEC, allowing 63.9 points per game. They flexed that early on by allowing six points and forcing eight turnovers in the first ten minutes. Mizzou’s offense rarely got into the paint, and no player shot well. Mizzou was down by as much as 25 in the first half.
“They switch 5 different ways, and they are really aggressive with their hands,” Trevon Brazile said. “You have to be strong with the ball.”
LSU was red hot in the first half as well, especially from 3-point land (5/12 from the field). That, combined with the abysmal offensive performance from Mizzou, led to a halftime score of 39-23 in favor of the Bayou Bengals.
“Can’t put yourself in that spot, but you have to keep fighting,” Javon Pickett said.
It was just an overall struggle to watch Missouri in the first half. The lack of a true point guard was never more apparent today, as the team looked uncomfortable and clumsy in the half-court. A lot of credit has to be given to LSU for playing some elite defense, as they made the opposing offense look like a junior varsity team at times.
“We weren’t very assertive,” Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought we were passive against the press.”
I feel like a broken record, but it comes down to the turnovers and shooting for Missouri. 15 first-half turnovers is horrid, and 36% from the field compared to LSU’s 50% made matters worse. For insult to injury, Missouri transfer Xavier Pinson led LSU in scoring with 11 at the half.
Missouri came out of the half with some energy, cutting the lead to 10 at the under sixteen timeout. They got out into the open floor more than the first half, and the effort level across the board was better.
“In the second half towards the end, you could see the growth,” Pickett said.
Then, it seemed as if Missouri ran out of gas. LSU went on a 12-0 run in a six minute stretch midway through the half, and the lead got back out to 22. Tari Eason took over, as he had 17-second half points and dominated the interior.
It was a much better second half for Mizzou, but they did not have the gas in the tank to mount a real comeback. They cut the lead back down to eight, but the final score read 76-68 in favor of LSU.
If this team did not have the turnover and shooting issues that plagued them all season, maybe things could have been different. They showed great fight and effort in the second half, but that can only get you so far.
Thus, the season comes to an end. Missouri finishes with a 12-21 record (5-13 in conference), and the Tigers now look to the offseason. First order of business: Cuonzo Martin’s job status.
“If that’s the best thing for both parties, then that’s the best thing for both parties,” Martin said regarding his position. “I don’t get too concerned about any of that. As long as you don’t take the main things from my life.”