For the better part of 13 minutes Tuesday night, Missouri looked like it just might be the David to No. 3 Tennessee’s Goliath.
The Tigers exploded out of the gate with urgency on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they shared the ball well, attacking the Volunteers’ pressure defense. Shots fell when the Tigers needed them to, and they were able to build a nine-point cushion before the second media timeout.
Then, in the remaining 6:41 of the first half, Missouri crumbled.
The Tigers struggled to find easy looks, and when they did, they couldn’t knock them down. Coupled with careless fouls and a lack of a dominant inside presence, it resulted in an 87-63 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers (13-1) — Missouri’s worst of the season.
Sophomore center Jeremiah Tilmon put Missouri at a disadvantage to start the contest. After receiving a pass in the paint, the sophomore swung his elbows into a set defender and was called for a charge. In frustration, he tossed the ball down toward the defender. He was immediately hit with a technical foul, and before the first media timeout, Missouri’s only true post presence was a complete non-factor.
“I just turned my head (after the foul), and all of a sudden, I guess he said something (to the Tennessee player) and got the technical,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “It’s unfortunate.”
“I think he’s targeted a little bit,” added Kevin Puryear about Tilmon’s technical. “But that’s something that he has to be ready for at times, and that just comes from growth.”
Tilmon wasn’t the only Tiger committing fouls. Javon Pickett, Mark Smith and Puryear each contributed two fouls to the team’s 11 at half.
Tennessee managed to stay within the game despite Missouri’s hot-shooting start. The Volunteers simply needed one crucial moment from one player to force their way back into the competition.
That moment came from an unlikely guard: Lamonté Turner.
Appearing in just his fifth game this season after returning from injury, the junior stepped into a pass along the wing and knocked down a huge three-pointer.
“The addition of (Lamonté Turner) changed the game for them,” noted Martin. “He takes them to another level.”
As Tennessee started to build a rhythm, Missouri’s offensive poise collapsed.
Javon Pickett’s driving, twisting lay-up rimmed out, and on the subsequent offensive possession, he clanked two free throws.
Off of the second miss, Jordan Bowden sprinted along the baseline and scored on an easy basket when Missouri failed to get back on defense.
Tennessee’s Jordan Bone grabbed a board after yet another unsuccessful 3-point attempt. The Volunteers’ third-leading scorer buried a pull-up on the next possession.
“(Bone) really just pushed the tempo,” Kevin Puryear said. “Every time that we missed, he was making plays for other guys, scoring and just putting himself in the mix.”
Pickett’s miserable sequence hit its crescendo when he fouled Bowden for a 1-and-1 free throw attempt. The junior nailed both.
Out of the final media timeout of the half, the ball found its way back to Turner, and once again his 3-pointer found the bottom of the net.
The Volunteers’ 13-0 run took just 3:10.
“I don’t think we defended at the level we needed to,” Martin said. “They made some shots that just changed the game.”
Jordan Geist contributed two more free throws — the final points Missouri would score in the half — to cut the lead to 34-31. Missouri would get no closer the rest of the game.
Tennessee finished out the remaining 1:50 on an 8-0 run. Kyle Alexander scored an easy inside layup before Bowden added two free throws, a 3-pointer and a crowd-silencing slam dunk. He finished with a game-high 20 points. Another Pinson foul sent Bone to the charity stripe to sink the final two points of the half.
Missouri did not score a field goal in the final 7:04 of the half and went into the locker room shooting 36 percent — nearly eight percentage points lower than the season average.
“We were trying to stay positive, but our offense got pretty stagnant,” K.J. Santos said. “I thought we could’ve done a better job moving the ball around and trying to get open.”
Missouri now turns it attention to South Carolina, which it will face Saturday, marking the Tigers’ first true road game since Nov. 9.
Supervising editors are Reed Koutelas and Sky Chadde.