Missouri basketball puts on a show in close loss to No. 11 Kentucky

Sophomore guard Terrence Phillips had a career-high 22 points to lead the Tigers.

UK freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel, 32, jumps for a shot during the second quarter of the home game in Mizzou Arena.

Missouri men’s basketball took advantage Tuesday night of an opportunity to display the heart and effort the team feels it has played with all year.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, sometimes heart just isn’t enough.

Missouri fell to the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats 72-62 in a surprising back-and-forth affair at Mizzou Arena in front of an announced crowd of 10,074.

With the loss, the Tigers drop to 7-20 (2-13) on the year and become the first team in Southeastern Conference history to lose 20 or more games in three straight seasons. Meanwhile, Kentucky (23-5, 13-2) set itself up for a date with No. 13 Florida on Saturday afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky, with first place in the SEC standings on the line.

Missouri was led by sophomore guard Terrence Phillips, who had a career-high 22 points and went 8-8 from the free-throw line. But the rest of the team went just 6-15 from the line, something coach Kim Anderson said was a major factor in Missouri’s loss.

“[Free throws were] huge,” Anderson said. “It’s tough, but again those things happen; it just seems like those things happen a lot. We don’t have a large margin for error, and that’s an error when you miss nine free throws.”

The Tigers, who entered the game as a 16-point underdog, jumped out to an early 7-3 lead on a Phillips 3-pointer that immediately energized the student section and the rest of the Missouri faithful. Junior Jordan Barnett followed up Phillips’ efforts a few minutes later with a block, rebound and ferocious dunk that showed both Kentucky and any other skeptics in the building that the Tigers had no intention of going down quietly.

Barnett said he felt his highlight-reel play electrified the crowd and the rest of the team.

“I felt like it provided a lot of energy for me, my teammates and the arena,” Barnett said. “To have an easy one like that and have it come off a defensive play, it was good.”

Missouri rode the early energy to 41.9-percent shooting in the first half to reach halftime trailing by just one point, 31-30. But the Tigers’ streak of success began to run its course in the beginning of the second half, as Kentucky jumped out to a seven-point lead on a 6-0 run. After Missouri answered with a 3-point play from sophomore K.J. Walton, Kentucky began to rely more heavily on freshman big man and NBA draft prospect Edrice Adebayo.

Adebayo, who finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds, presented a major matchup problem for the Tigers, who had to mix and match defensively to guard Adebayo as big men Russell Woods and Reed Neikko both got into foul trouble, each eventually fouling out of the contest.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said Adebayo bailed his team out on Tuesday.

“He gets beat up in there, but he still seems to get balls into the basket,” Calipari said. “Without him, we lose [tonight]. If someone passes on him in the draft this year, they should be fired [because] he can guard all five positions.”

Despite the impressive effort, Phillips said his team will not be satisfied with just competing with good teams.

“We hung with a top-25 team in the country for 35-38 minutes there, but at the end of the day it’s marked up as a loss,” he said. “There are some moral victories there, but we’re getting pretty tired of moral victories.”

Calipari said Missouri’s continued effort to fight has impressed him.

“There are other teams that have let go of the rope, but Missouri isn’t one of them,” he said. “They outfought us, which was why the game was close, but we got out alive.”

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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