In a season of high expectations and disappointment, the Missouri men’s basketball team had a legitimate chance to impress as an underdog No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Perform well in the Big Dance, and all previous shortcomings would be erased.
But the Tigers' chance for redemption came and went Thursday night as Missouri exited the NCAA Tournament with a 78-63 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats. The team finished with a 23-11 record on the season.
There were no quitters, no lackadaisical play, but in the end, pure effort wasn’t enough to keep the Tigers afloat.
“We were always fighting uphill,” coach Mike Anderson said in the postgame news conference. “When you’ve got guys that normally score for you not scoring, it puts a burden on those other guys.”
Junior forward Ricardo Ratliffe led the Tigers with 13 points in the loss. Sophomore guard Michael Dixon also added 11, but regular season leading-scorer Marcus Denmon was held to 10 points on 3-11 shooting.
Denmon said the shooting woes were the difference in the loss.
“Its hard to get into your defense when you’re not making shots,” Denmon said. “You can keep playing defense for 40 minutes, but eventually you’ve got to put the ball in the basket.”
Forward Yancy Gates, the team’s leading scorer in the regular-season, led the Bearcats in the victory. The junior scored 18 points and 11 rebounds for the double-double, hitting seven of eight shots from the field.
Cincinnati moves on to face the Connecticut Huskies in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, a rematch of Big East Conference foes.
Gates said people counted the team out because of the lack of experience.
“A lot of people had us losing because it was our first time in,” Gates said. “The first time in, we got a win.”
Missouri was plagued by the same deficiencies that haunted the team throughout the season. The Tigers were out-rebounded 35-27, shot 36 percent from the field, and had a stalled offense for much of the second half — all telltale signs of a Missouri loss.
After holding a lead for the majority of the first half, the Bearcats took over after a poor foul by junior guard Kim English on a dunk by Larry Davis. Cincinnati would hold the advantage for the remainder of the game.
Missouri clawed back into the game midway through the second half, cutting the deficit to single digits, but a 13-2 run by the Bearcats capped by a technical foul on Missouri coach Mike Anderson sealed the fate of the young Tiger squad.
For Anderson, the disappointment only adds to the swirling rumors of the possible move to Arkansas.
“Well, I don’t deal with rumors,” Anderson said. “Again, that’s a rumor, and I thought I’d dealt with that already. I’m excited about what’s taking place at Missouri, and I plan on being at Missouri. That’s the bottom line.”
Anderson has avoided making conclusive statements about his future throughout the postseason. Whether he stays with Missouri or not, Anderson and the Tigers will be watching the rest of the tournament from the comforts of their homes. Fitting, considering home has been the only place kind to the Tigers this season.