If you had to pick on area or statistic to single out that would tell you everything you wanted to know about this season to date, it would be shooting. The Tigers have struggled all season to shoot the ball and Saturday, against a top 25 team, was no different. Against Miami (OH), Tulane, and Western Kentucky you can get away with poor shooting, and Missouri did. Against Arizona you can’t, and Missouri didn’t.
The Tigers started the game cold, hitting only two of it’s first 15 shots to find themselves in a 25-8 hole. Meanwhile, the Wildcats had the opposite problem of shooting the ball too well to start. Their inevitable return to earth allowed the Tigers to crawl back into the game to be only down five at halftime. And they even clipped it to four at 45-41 when Russell Woods missed a dunk on a fast break, from there the Wildcats took advantage of the Tigers poor shooting by going on a 26-4 run that ended any of Missouri’s upset hopes. By that point it was 71-45 and Sean Miller was checking in on the plane home.
Let’s revisit the preview a bit:
The great equalizer is the 3-point line, where the Tigers are currently the top ranked 3-point defense, and they’ve got just enough firepower from the outside to make things scary if somebody like Frankie Hughes, Cullen VanLeer or Terrence Phillips gets hot from the outside. Quite frankly this is Mizzou’s best shot at the upset, the great equalizer of the 3-point shot. This year the Tigers have been more than erratic from behind the arc, but all it takes is one game.
Arizona took advantage of the great equalizer by shooting 13-24 for the game, including 4-7 from Rawle Alkins. Alkins, a 5-star freshman who is built like a pro already, was nearly impossible for Missouri to guard all day. He had 19 points on 13 shots and nine rebounds in 37 minutes. He also found my tweet about him:
Rawle Alkins has absolutely been the x-factor in this game, 17 points and 4/6 from 3 and each has felt like a dagger.— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) December 10, 2016
Every time Mizzou made a run it felt like Alkins was there to make a play the Wildcats needed to keep separation. He had a 3-pointer to start a 21-0 run (apart of the 26-4 run in the second half), and two of his other baskets in the first half prevented Missouri from finishing a run. Kobe Simmons also chipped in 19 points and was 3-6 from the 3-point line after starting the year hitting only 31% of his threes.
So yes, Arizona shot well, but their 53.2% eFG was only 0.8% more than their season average. In all the 3-point shots went in at a higher clip than the Wildcats normally shoot, but they struggled from the 2FG area, and it didn’t matter because the Tigers did what they’ve done most of the year. Missouri finished the game shooting and eFG of 36.4% which dropped them to 301st in the country on the season at 45.3%. The slumping Tigers offense continued to stymy their ability to be competitive, this time against a good but flawed opponent.
Good news is the Tigers only had their shot blocked 4 times on 55 shots, or around 7%, which is nearly half as often as they’ve done so far this season. The bad news is they were out rebounded by 18. Good news is they forced 15 turnovers, bad news is they weren’t able to capitalize on very many of them as the Tigers only scored three times following an Arizona turnover.
When you are a team like Mizzou with so little margin for error, and you take on a good team, you have to take advantage of turnovers and free points. Shooting 9/17 from the FT line in the second half is exactly the kind of thing you cannot do and expect to get away with it.
Last of the 3 keys from the preview is Tempo, this game had 69 possessions, which is SLOWER than Missouri normally plays. The Wildcats were able to dictate the kind of tempo they were going to have more success under with fewer available players. Although, I was a little disappointed we didn’t have a Tyler Trillo sighting until late in the second half.
Not all bad, I thought Mitchell Smith provided a spark and played with good energy in 15 minutes of action. He had a nice mid-post move that finished with a dunk, a move that certainly ignited the arena when it happened. Jordan Geist can’t shoot to save his life but his energy helped spark the Tigers and Geist had the best +/- on the team of -1. KJ Walton was a bit of a mess early but had a strong second half in only 11 minutes. And last, Kevin Puryear continues to round out his game, as he had 11 points and seven boards against a team you’d figure would give him trouble.
The Tigers get a week off, then take on Eastern Illinois and will welcome Jordan Barnett to the lineup and hopefully Reed Nikko back. Barnett is an important addition as he gives the Tigers a much needed scorer.
Coming up we’ll have Study Hall for a deeper look at the numbers and Tramel will find the winners and losers (participation trophies?) of the game. But for now, we commiserate together and hope to find the hope again.