Missouri basketball struggles, falls to Arkansas 94-61

Kim Anderson: “I would say I'm embarrassed.”
Sophomore guard Tramaine Isabell (4) fights off an Arkansas defender. The Razorbacks’ press defense frustrated the Tigers on Jan 12, 2016, at Mizzou Arena as they lost 94-61.

Last season, as a 7-11 Missouri basketball team took on tough border rival Arkansas at Mizzou Arena, the thought of a “rebuilding year” escaped fans’ minds. But as then-sophomore Wes Clark was sent to the charity stripe with only seconds left on the clock and the score at 61-60 in favor of the visiting team, the Tigers were given a rude awakening.

Clark, with the opportunity to either tie – likely sending it into overtime – or seal a victory, missed both free-throws, and coach Mike Anderson and his Razorbacks left Columbia victorious.

The guard wiping tears from his face with his jersey was an unshakable sight for anyone in attendance.

On Tuesday night, as Arkansas returned to Norm Stewart Court, the story was much different. And no, not in Mizzou’s favor. The seemingly improved Tigers (8-8, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) fell to the seemingly worsened Razorbacks (9-7, 3-1 SEC) by a score of 94-61.

This time, the home team’s free-throws were no problem, sinking 20-of-23 opportunities at the line.

“Missouri did a good job of attack the paint in the first half to get to the free throw line and they kept it close,” Mike Anderson said. “We were able to amount some more energy and finish off the game on the right note."

This time, the Razorbacks shot 62.7 percent of their field goals, as opposed to 36.5 percent from last year.

"What a tremendous effort by our basketball team,” Mike Anderson said. “That is one of the better games we have played on the road … When you shoot 60 percent on the road, your chances of winning are pretty good.

This time, rather than a hard-fought, back-to-back battle between the two teams, Arkansas made it look easy.

"It wasn't the margin,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said after the game. “It's the way we played. Now, obviously, the margin plays into it. I wouldn't say it was lack of preparation on their part or our part. One of the things that we've had a problem with is getting punched in the mouth and not punching back early in games.”

By the game’s first timeout on Tuesday, Arkansas was already in control. The Razorbacks were up 13-4, and would refuse to give the Tigers breathing room, finishing the half at 46-34.

The reenergized Tigers would give it their all to kick off the second half, and cut their opponents’ lead to seven points, but it wasn’t enough. Helped by Columbia native Jimmy Whitt’s career-high 15 points, Arkansas then went on a 20-2 run to put the game way out of Mizzou’s reach.

"To come here and get a win was first and foremost what we were trying to do,” Whitt said post-game. “To contribute like I did, is a big confidence booster going into future games."

After Missouri’s 76-61 win over Auburn earlier this week, a blowout of this sort was far from expected.

“I would say I'm embarrassed,” Kim Anderson said. “I think coming into the game we certainly felt good after the way we played the other night against Auburn. But tonight, we didn't respond very well early in the game.”

Despite this lopsided final score, this isn’t the same team as last year. The chemistry is better, the ball movement is better and the record is better. These Tigers aren’t locked in at last place in the SEC like they were so early in conference play last year. Sure, they sit in 10th place with a difficult schedule ahead, but improvement is improvement.

Missouri will have an even bigger challenge as they travel to South Carolina on Saturday to take on the undefeated No. 15 Gamecocks.

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