Missouri's signature win slips while missing Smith’s spark

Missouri let a 14-point lead slip away after they were outscored 15-1 in the last 2:08 of regulation.
Missouri sophomore Mark Smith watches lineup introductions before MU's 86-80 overtime loss to LSU on Saturday, Jan. 25 2018 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. Smith, who rolled his ankle in the team's previous matchup with Arkansas, was out for the game.

For nearly 38 minutes, Missouri looked to have its signature win.

Despite an ankle injury to second-leading scorer Mark Smith, it had a 14-point lead over No. 25 LSU with 2:14 to go.

No Mark Smith, no problem.

But over the next 2:14, Smith’s absence became impossible to ignore.

As the sophomore guard sat on the bench with an injury he suffered just days before against Arkansas, his team watched its lead evaporate with turnover after turnover against LSU’s press. Missouri’s ball handlers looked befuddled.

Missouri then let its lead slip away entirely as a 15-1 run tied the game at 71 to end regulation. Missouri (10-8, 1-5 SEC) was outlasted in a 86-80 overtime loss to LSU (16-3, 6-0 SEC).

“We let one slip,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.

Sitting near Smith on the bench during the late-game meltdown was backup point guard Xavier Pinson, who had fouled out with 6:40 left.

Pinson played well with Jordan Geist in a two point guard lineup in the second half. He finished with 8 points and three rebounds in 14 minutes.

But for the game’s final stretch, Missouri was without two of its top three ball handlers. Their disappearance stuck out like a sore thumb before it finally squandered what would’ve been one of Martin’s best wins to this point in his Missouri tenure.

LSU coach Will Wade used a 1-3-1 full court press he’d previously used on only six possessions during conference play. He said in postgame that LSU played “very badly” when they used it. It worked against Missouri, forcing three turnovers in the last two minutes and only allowing one point.

Geist acknowledged that Pinson being off the floor hurt the press break but he accepted some responsibility for the turnovers against the press.

“Yeah, but I’ve gotta be able to take care of the ball,” Geist said. “As a senior, this is my team and I need to take control so they know that they shouldn’t be scared or worried if they have the ball in their hands.”

This hasn’t been the first time Missouri has suffered a late game collapse this season, though it might be its most staggering instance. The Tigers have let early leads against many teams – including No. 1 Tennessee – evaporate at the end of the first half, including a 17-4 start against Arkansas on Wednesday.

Despite the epic collapse, there were a few bright spots for an offense that has been depleted this season with injuries to sophomore forward Jontay Porter and Smith.

Geist continued a stellar senior season with a season-high 25 points before he run out of gas after carrying the offense for most of the afternoon.

The senior point guard had some help from sophomore forward Jeremiah Tilmon, who stayed out of foul trouble for most of the afternoon and played a career-high 35 minutes. Tilmon finished with 15 points and six rebounds and combined with freshman guard Javon Pickett’s 13 points as solid second and third offensive options.

Tilmon showed extended shooting range with an 18-foot pick-and-pop jumper early in the first half while Pickett was able to create easy layups with multiple backdoor cuts.

With the exception of Geist, Missouri struggled from behind the arc, shooting 6-for-24 from long range. Geist made half of those triples on his first three attempts from behind the arc, but finished the night 3-for-7 from long range.

Smith is fifth in all of college basketball in 3-point shooting at 47.5 percent and the sophomore sharpshooter would have helped the Tigers a lot tonight in that department. He likely would have aided in handling the ball down the stretch as well..

Pickett, who Martin said was a game-time decision with a back injury, had an uncharacteristically poor 1-for-7 performance behind the arc. Walk-on redshirt junior Ronnie Suggs, who showed great effort and played well defensively off the bench, shot 1-for-5 from downtown and 1-for-6 from the field, finishing with 9 points in 29 minutes.

Missouri also got minimal production from the rest of its starting lineup. Senior forward Kevin Puryear struggled with only 2 points on 1-for-7 shooting and sophomore Torrence Watson, Smith’s replacement in the starting lineup, was held scoreless with no rebounds or assists in 17 minutes.

The lack of 3-point shooting stifled ball movement and hurt floor spacing. Missouri’s offense slowed down possessions and relied on a lot on individual dribbling from Pinson and Geist.

Guards dribble around pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll before passing the ball back and forth around the perimeter, then relying on either Geist, Pickett or Pinson to make something happen late in the shot clock. Missouri finished with seven assists. In contrast, LSU point guard Tremont Waters had nine.

An inefficient Missouri offense was bailed out multiple times by LSU fouls and scored 26 of their points at the free throw line. It salvaged a 42.1 percent shooting performance from the field.

But without Smith, the offense couldn’t quite finish off a signature win for the Tigers and Martin. Instead, they let another close game slip away.

“We had the game,” Tilmon said. “We’re just making mistakes at the wrong time. It happens every time.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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