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Mizzou Hoops drops dogfight to Mississippi State

The Tigers’ conference road woes continued in a 63-52 loss to the Bulldogs in Starkville.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Contrary to popular belief, opposites may not actually attract.

Saturday night’s meeting between the high-potent Missouri Tigers offense and the defensive-minded Mississippi State Bulldogs sparked physicality and emotion as tempers flared throughout the contest.

Mizzou, who entered looking for its first victory in Starkville since Feb. 13, 2013, could not overcome its season-long SEC road woes, falling in a 63-52 dogfight to the Bulldogs.

“We just didn’t play well enough and play a complete 40 minutes, so we have to get to the drawing board to execute,” Missouri men’s basketball head coach Dennis Gates said.

Mississippi State never trailed, riding the performance of redshirt senior forward Tolu Smith, who made his presence felt throughout the game with 25 points and 12 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season.

“I thought (Smith) finished through contact well,” Gates said. “I think he’s one of the top post players in the country.”

Senior forward D.J. Jeffries added 10 points and nine rebounds.

Mizzou’s normally dominant forces —Kobe Brown, Isiaih Mosley and D’Moi Hodge— remained stagnant throughout the contest, finding little success anywhere on the court.

DeAndre Gholston, who tallied nine first half points, finished with 12 points off the bench, adding onto a 10-point and 8-point performance for Hodge and Brown, respectively.

Gates featured a new rotation throughout this road contest, replacing Mosley with Sean East II in the starting lineup and featuring Mabor Majak and Kaleb Brown in more prominent roles.

“I knew what type of game it would be, so in preparation, I thought those guys would be prepared to do certain things,” Gates said. “Obviously, the outcome didn’t give us that, but I did see some positives inside the game.”

Even with the changes, the Tigers struggled to match up against Mississippi State’s sheer strength.

Physicality and whistles ruled the feud between a pair of the SEC’s most will-imposing teams.

The teams combined for 46 total free throws, making for quite the wrestling match in the paint. Mizzou finished with an uncharacteristic 14-for-21 tally from the charity stripe, while the Bulldogs countered with its own 18-for-25 mark.

“It should have been 30 free throws plus for both teams tonight without a doubt,” Gates said. “Physically, our game was lower. Our free throw count was lower.”

Mississippi State also capitalized in a territory where the Tigers have struggled throughout their losses—the last four minutes of the first half and first four of the second half.

In that middle-eight frame, the Bulldogs outscored Mizzou 15-6, capturing the momentum to grow their lead from two to 10 points.

The run featured Mississippi State’s ability to limit runs and force misses, as the Tigers made only one of their nine shots attempts in those eight minutes. Mizzou went through four field goal droughts totaling at least four minutes throughout the game.

Their contrasting styles were evidenced early as Mississippi State’s defense stepped up in an emphatic way.

The Bulldogs held Mizzou into an 0-for-7 start from behind the arc, eliminating an asset of the Tigers’ games that has been formidable in their last three games, all victories.

Mizzou entered the game on its hottest stretch in program history, having made 43 triples in its last three games, but Mississippi State quieted that trend with its signature half court defense.

The Tigers finished with a 16-for-50 mark from the field, including a 6-for-23 tally from 3-point range, committed 15 turnovers and only recorded 10 assists.

“Ultimately, our assist-to-turnover ratio was in (the) negative,” Gates said. “All of our primary ball handlers had turnovers (except for Brown). We can’t play games like that.”

Despite its lack of offensive success, Mizzou did make its impact felt on the defensive end as well, forcing 12 Mississippi State turnovers to remain within striking distance for most of the evening.

After falling behind 8-1, the Tigers fought back to within two points, capitalizing via the free throw line and paint. Brown and Mo Diarra, who combined for 17 rebounds and 16 points, each notched their first points in the stretch.

Smith and the Bulldogs responded right back, however, as the forward scored 11 of Mississippi State’s next 16 points, extending the advantage to seven points.

Amidst the early drama, tensions began to boil, after Hodge was pushed following a foul. That turmoil returned in the second half, when Mississippi State’s Dashawn Davis was administered a technical foul amidst another after-whistle confrontation.

Those emotions had little impact on the outcome, however. The Bulldogs dominated the defensive end and controlled the paint, doubling up Mizzou in that category.

Mississippi State looked to lose its middle-eight momentum midway through the second half, as the Tigers went on a signature 10-0 run, which included a pair of Nick Honor 3-pointers.

“I think we pushed the ball a lot more in the second half,” Honor said. “I just don’t think that this game was a real representation of us.”

The comeback effort stopped there for Mizzou, who allowed a 13-2 run and did not make a single field goal during that nearly seven minute stretch, which was reminiscent of the offensive outputs during the Texas A&M and Florida losses.

While the Tigers had an unsuccessful shooting performance, they did compete on the boards, grabbing only one fewer rebound than the Bulldogs. Not much else went right for Mizzou, though, who fell right into line with Mississippi State’s tempo and execution.

Tonight’s loss marked the Tigers’ fourth road defeat in SEC play, a mark that Gates said is an attribute to who the team has played—Arkansas, Texas A&M, Florida and Mississippi State.

“Those are big time teams,” Gates said. “Those are NCAA Tournament teams in my eyes, and I think our guys played well, but not well enough.”

Looking to rediscover its shooting touch and winning ways, the Tigers will next host South Carolina at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Columbia before going on a grueling road trip to Knoxville and Auburn.