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On a night when Mizzou needed perfect, the Tigers were nearly there.

The fight and will which held everything together burst open in a sad and unfortunate way.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Ask yourself this question: What were your expectations as this game was tipping off?

LSU came into Mizzou Arena winners of eight games in a row, and 10 of their last 11. They were elitely talented with an undefeated record in conference play and a top 25 team. Boasting a highly efficient offense with an elite point guard it was going to take a nearly perfect performance for the Tigers to pull out a win.

Then the news about Mark Smith hit just before tip off. Smith was being held out with an ankle injury, and suddenly Mizzou’s incredibly thin bench got thinner. The biggest weakness for the Tigers, depth, was being put in the spot light.

Imagine knowing this, and then I told you after the game was over they got zero from Torrence Watson (Smith’s replacement in the starting lineup), and just two points from senior forward Kevin Puryear. Then I tell you Ronnie Suggs played 29 minutes, and Xavier Pinson fouled out after playing just 14 minutes. Now knowing all of those facts how would you consider Missouri’s chances to win the game?

Not good right?

With all of that, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was going to have to be nearly perfect everywhere else to stay close. And then they were nearly perfect for 38 minutes before they really weren’t.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri was nearly perfect in their execution of the game plan. They clogged driving lanes and forced the visiting team to play at a pace far slower than their preferred tempo. LSU struggled to adapt as the Tigers took away Tremont Waters playmaking ability off the pick-and-roll for much of the game. They left questionable three point shooters open long enough to let them think about their shot and for most of the game it worked. They forced LSU’s big men to play on the block with their back to the basket, which is not a strength of their team. They’re better or rolls or pops or dives, catching off rim runs or short corner drop offs, and they got none of that from the Tigers.

Despite Mizzou’s ball handling woes in previous games, they held their own against LSU’s 1-3-1 three-quarter court trap by subbing in Pinson with Geist and attacking the dropping bigs at the rim once the ball hit the wing or corner.

The scout and game plan was excellent.

Then with 10:55 to play there was an awkward rebound and a mysterious foul call on a stumbling LSU player. Near the play was Jeremiah Tilmon, who at that stage of the game had largely avoided his foul trouble woes. The initial call went against Tilmon, upon protest the officials reviewed the ball since Emmitt Williams (the player fouled — or rather the player who was stumbling and not fouled) was surrounded by three or four Mizzou players. They awarded the foul to Pinson instead. That actually was the worst of scenarios because the combination of Pinson and Geist had held the LSU pressure defense at bay.

Then one minute later, Pinson tripped over the foot of a screener and fell to the floor. His body fell into the path of Waters who fell and a foul was called. Incidental sure, but still a foul, and Pinson’s fifth. He left the court with 9:55 to play, and I texted Matt a one word explicative because I knew the valuable role Pinson had played to that point.

Mizzou was now down to just one ball handler in Jordan Geist. Geist has been so much to this team, and his line is remarkable. 25 points, 11 rebounds, 8-10 from the FT line. But Geist was out of backups. Dru Smith still sitting out until next year due to transfer rules (and Evansville being jerky about it), Pinson on the bench having fouled out, and Mark Smith sitting out with an injury. The next best ball handler in the lineup was Ronnie Suggs or Javon Pickett. That’s limited at best.

And still, at this point we had yet to see Wade and his LSU team extend pressure. It worked out great for Mizzou as they were able to hold their 9-11 point lead and even extend it out to 14 points. It was at that point when the frayed seams at the edges of the patchwork quilt Martin had sewn together began to show.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s try to at least get one thing straight

If you want to blame Cuonzo or whoever for the struggles against pressure, go right ahead. I can’t stop you. But I hope I can at least explain this a little bit so maybe it’s easier to understand why this happened.

Most of the complaints I saw last night was about how Mizzou could’t “break” a press. So here’s something fun I did... I went back and watched the meltdown. I watched the last 2:37 of the game and Mizzou had one live ball turnover against the press from that point to the end of the game.

They had three turnovers in the stretch overall and here’s what they were:

  • 1:57 - Kevin Puryear TO; I actually attribute this to Javon Pickett. Mizzou broke the pressure and got the ball up to Pickett in the front court. Instead of pulling the ball out to run clock he attacked and threw a horrible pass wide to KP.
  • 1:49 - Jordan Geist TO: This is the one live ball TO against pressure. Geist caught the ball too deep in the corner and put the ball over his head. You can debate whether he was hacked or pushed, it kind of looked like it, but the ball went to the other team largely because Geist caught it too deep and put the ball over his head.
  • 0:45 - Ronnie Suggs TO; The shot clock was winding down and he drove the ball towards the basket and Waters cut him off (again it could be argued it was a blocking foul there) and knocked the ball away.

So while the “press breaker play” was shaky at times, it’s shaky because of what I said above. Missouri was down to one guy who could competently handle the ball versus pressure, and yet they broke the press every time except for once.

Mizzou lost because LSU had every play they absolutely needed to go their way, went their way. Remember Geist's 8-10 FT performance? He was 2-4 in the final stretch. Had he made one more the game changes a lot. Ronnie Suggs did everything he could, and he went 1-2 in that stretch from the line as well. If both go 4-4 from 2:37 to 2:14 to play Mizzou has a 16 point lead instead of a 14 point lead. Little things, over and over again, add up to bigger things.

I don’t like the term “wheels came off” to describe what happened last night. It doesn’t accurately describe what happened.

Did Missouri likely start to press a little bit once the pressure kicked up because of how things have gone in the past? Yeah probably. But they fought and scrapped and nearly held it all together. They had three plays go against them with either poor decision making from a younger player, a tough play from a senior leader, or a little used walk-on trying to make a late clock play.

It’s tough to swallow, but if there’s anything we’ve learned about this team and their coach, it won’t deter them. They’ll come out better prepared and fight even harder next game. Beating LSU would have been fun, and it should have happened thanks to a nearly perfect game plan and execution which was almost exact. But remember, it’s a rebuilding year and the young players think is getting thicker.