The detractors for the Missouri men's basketball team have pegged the Tigers’ lack of depth and size, as well as their reliance upon the three-point shot, as the squad's most likely pitfalls.
With perhaps the most publicized naysayer of them all in the house in ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb on Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena, Kansas State (19-8, 8-7 Big 12 Conference) exploited each of those perceived weaknesses en route to a stunning 78-68 victory over the No. 3 Tigers (25-3, 12-3 Big 12).
“Tough ball game for us,” coach Frank Haith said. “Give K-State credit. They were very good defensively. It was a physical, physical ball game. They’re physicality just kind of got to us. I thought our guys competed hard, we fought. The game in the way it was played tonight, it was to their advantage.”
The loss was Missouri’s second to Kansas State this season, as the Wildcats previously defeated the Tigers 75-59 on Jan. 7 in Manhattan, Kans.
After the game, a noticeably distressed Kim English wasted no time reaching the bottom line of the difference between the teams.
“The outcome,” English said.
Kansas State senior forward Jamar Samuels’ tip-in with 12:10 remaining in the first half gave Kansas State a 17-16 advantage, a lead the Wildcats would not relinquish.
For a stretch of nearly nine minutes in the first-half, junior guard Michael Dixon was the only Tiger to score. It was during this stretch the Wildcats cushioned their lead, taking a 40-30 advantage into the break.
It was also during that stretch that the Tigers’ lack of size and depth hampered them. After being whistled for an over-the-back foul, English was given a technical foul for slamming the ball on the ground.
After the game English said the ball “slipped” out of his hands, but the damage was already done, as it was his third foul.
“Kimmie was competing like crazy,” Haith said. “He gets his third foul. That hurt us a great deal, no question.”
The Tigers' lack of size was also problematic, as Kansas State repeatedly received lob passes deep in the paint, leading to easy layups. With senior forward Steve Moore also in trouble throughout the game, the Wildcats outrebounded the Tigers 36-30 on the night.
The combination of Samuels, freshman Thomas Gipson and junior Jordan Henriquez out-physicaled the Tigers down low throughout the game, combining for 28 points and 18 rebounds.
“That’s their mantra," English said. "They’re a physical team. We didn’t punch back early and when you do that and play good teams it’s an uphill battle all the way.”
The situation got so desperate late in the first-half that Haith put senior forward Andrew Jones, a midseason basketball convert from the football field, on the floor.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 16 with 12:30 remaining in the second half. It was then Missouri mounted its comeback attempt.
The Tigers held the Wildcats to just two points over the next six minutes, narrowing the gap to just three.
The lead would not shrink further. Junior guard Rodney McGruder sunk three of his game-high 24 points to extend the lead back to six. During the game’s remaining 5:10, the Tigers attempted nine 3-point field goals. Not one went in.
“I think we were trying to get a 5-point shot,” Haith said. “Instead of continuing to play and attacking and putting the ball of them, I thought we settled.”
With their shots not dropping, Missouri’s chances at a marvelous comeback were sunk, as Kansas State would end the game on a 15-8 run.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin was relieved after the game.
“This is a crazy business,” Martin said. “A week ago, I was trying to find a building that’s more than six stories height, so I could jump. But these guys, their approach in practice, they gave me energy to come in and coach them in practice.”
As for the Tigers, it’s back to practice, where a laundry list of areas needs attention, English said.
“We didn’t defend the way we usually defend, the way we need to defend,” English said. “That will be fixed. That won’t happen again.”
Dixon led Missouri with 21 points, while senior guard Marcus Denmon was the only other Tiger to reach double figures, scoring 19 on the night. The Tigers shot just 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc for the game.
Despite the loss, coach Haith made sure to put the loss in perspective.
“We are 25-3," Haith said. "I’m proud of these guys. We want to win every game. It does taste bad when you lose. But we gotta get ourselves ready to compete and go to Lawrence and play (Kansas) on Saturday.”