The final four minutes for Missouri in the first half completely erased all the good from the first 10-14 minutes of play. Sure, the Tigers lost to No. 2 Kansas, but it wasn’t like the previous two matchups. In fact, it resembled the old days of the Border Showdown.
Missouri, despite playing in the most intimidating venue of all of college, came out with tremendous confidence, quickly seizing momentum against the Jayhawks on their own home court.
The jolt of energy came from the Tigers’ veteran leaders as Nick Honor appeared — yes, appeared — to be on his way to a terrific game by splashing a 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring. Sean East II, Missouri’s best player all season so far, displayed his shooting ability from inside and outside of the arc, while Noah Carter muscled his way for some tough finishes at the bucket.
When the clock went under the 10-minute mark in the first half, the Tigers led Kansas 20-12 at the Phog, The Tiger faithful who made the trip were loud and vibrant despite being placed in the top corner of the arena, and looking back to the 2021 and 2022 matchups, MU trailed KU by seven and 14 points in the same time span.
“I want to see the next time a team leads in this arena for 14 minutes to start the game. I don’t know when that will take place,” Dennis Gates said. “I’m proud of those 14 minutes though. Very proud.”
But, like many teams that go into Allen Fieldhouse, MU experienced the Kansas magic that has aided it to be the toughest venue in the nation.
The Jayhawks’ Nicolas Timberlake and KJ Adams began chipping away at the Tigers lead, and once it was cut to just three points, both teams began to trade blows like the ending of a Rocky movie. Unlike a happy ending though, Missouri didn’t have enough offensive firepower to deliver the knockout punch that could’ve gave KU its second loss of the season.
Elmarko Jackson gave Kansas the lead for good by splashing a 3-pointer in the face of Carter and to make it worse the two made contact, meaning a free throw was tacked on for the Jayhawks.
While Kansas’ offense heated up, Missouri’s shooters lost their touch over the final 25 minutes of game time. Carter and Honor only added more fuel to the Kansas crowd with a pair of air balls. All of a sudden, the lead and momentum that the Tigers worked so hard for had vanished.
Kansas ended the first stanza with a 14-0 run fueled by McCullar and Adams, who for the second year in a row, dominated Mizzou with a combined 34 points. Before both teams headed into the locker room, Tamar Bates fouled Kevin McCullar giving him three free shots making it 41-29 at the half.
“It’s simple. We scored, they didn’t,” said Gates on what went wrong towards the end of the half. “The other part of it is a majority of their points were in the paint. We fouled some 3-point shooters, which are things you can’t do on the road against anyone.”
Missouri finished the night by shooting just 39% from the field, compared to Kansas’ 45%. The Tigers also were crushed on the boards by a 41-25 margin. 16 of those rebounds came from Hunter Dickinson, who is on a quest for Naismith Player of the Year honors. After being held to just two points through 20 minutes of play, the Michigan transfer finished with 11 in the second half completing a double-double performance.
On a positive note, the Tigers never quit, even though moral victories in this rivalry should be taken lightly. Connor Vanover went on a personal run where he scored seven straight points for the Tigers. He finished with nine points to go along with two steals and a block.
“I think his teammates challenged him in the right way,” Gates said. “Sean and Nick challenged Connor in the second half and he was able to get going.”
Speaking of East and Honor, the guard duo finished with a combined 38 points, but unfortunately no one else was able to generate any offense. The Tigers got within eight points over the final four minutes of play, but it wasn’t enough time as KU extended the all-time series lead.
“Sean East and Nick Honor, those guys did an excellent job,” Gates said. “Now, they got to take better care of the basketball, which I know they will. They finished with eight turnovers and eight assists and ultimately for our team to win we can’t be in a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.”
Missouri got as much as within eight points over the final four minutes of play, but it wasn’t enough time as Kansas extended its series lead to 177-95. The Tigers fall to 7-3 on the season and suffers its first lost on the road after winning at Minnesota and Pittsburgh. The Tigers get a bit easier opponent next Sunday but is still away from the comfy confines of Mizzou Arena. MU heads a bit east of Lawrence to Kansas City, MO to face Seton Hall at T-Mobile Center at 4pm. The Pirates are off to an up and down start this season, and are 5-3 on the season and coming off an 17-point loss to #6 Baylor.