Missouri fails to put two halves together, falls 66-58 to Kentucky

Despite a season-high scoring performance from redshirt junior Ronnie Suggs, the Tigers struggled too much offensively in the first half to mount a comeback.
UK forward P.J. Washington reaches for a loose ball with forward E.J. Montgomery and MU forwards Kevin Puryear and Reed Nikko looking on in the first half of the Missouri vs. Kentucky men's basketball game on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

A fast break dunk by P.J. Washington at the 11:34 mark of the second half hit fast forward on Tuesday night’s contest between Missouri and Kentucky.

In the ensuing minute, Mizzou Arena erupted in boos and bodies went sprawling across the court. Four shots were missed, in rapid fire, between the two teams.

Wildcat freshman Keldon Johnson stole the ball from Jordan Geist, giving the Tiger senior his third turnover of the night. Johnson missed his layup, and Javon Pickett nabbed the defensive rebound, sending it back to Geist.

Washington blocked Geist’s shot, and then both teams traded missed triples before things slowed back down with a Kentucky timeout.

The minute-long frame was somewhat symbolic of MU’s inability to get anything going on Tuesday. Despite flashes of hope, Missouri (12-13, 3-10) couldn’t hold onto the lead for more than 42 seconds against the No. 4 team in the nation, as they fell 66-58 to Kentucky (22-4, 10-2) at home. While the Tigers outrebounded the Wildcats 34-28 and matched 18 points off of turnovers, a first half slump put them too far behind to come back.

“We didn’t fight at all in the first half,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We didn’t play hard. I thought we played on our heels in the first half.”

Kentucky played a 2-2-1 press to start the game, forcing eight turnovers and collecting 14 defensive rebounds in the first half. While the Tigers managed to add 6 points and take a momentary 1-point lead midway through the first frame, they were offensively outplayed by the Wildcats, who shot 50 percent from the field to Missouri’s 31 percent.

Freshman guard Xavier Pinson and redshirt junior Ronnie Suggs both came alive early for Missouri, but only the junior would hold his own through the game. Both had 5 points in the first half, which lead Missouri.

“I told [Kentucky] at halftime: ‘Look, they’re gonna be playing with house money,’” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They’re gonna make some shots, and they’re gonna make two or three runs and you just understand that that’s gonna happen.”

Suggs and Pickett picked up the offensive pace coming out of halftime. Pickett, who went scoreless in the first half, put up 9 points in the second and had two assists. Suggs added 8 points, making him MU’s leading scorer for the first time this season. He finished the game with 13 points and four rebounds, setting new season-highs for both.

“[Ronnie’s] really improved his shot,” Martin said. “He’s spent time on his shot. Again, I’ve said it before, it’s just really Ronnie believing that he’s a good player.”

Both halves concluded with foul trouble for the Tigers, reflective of their performance as a whole.

With five seconds left in the first half, junior Reed Nikko was called for a foul, giving Kentucky a free point to tack onto its already 17-point lead.

At the end of the game, it was freshman Torrence Watson who was called for the foul with 12 seconds left on the clock. The Tigers were only down 6 points, but two made free throws by Kentucky guard Tyler Herro put the game out of reach.

Senior Kevin Puryear and sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon both found themselves two fouls deep just six minutes into the game. Pickett also accumulated two in the first frame. While Puryear managed to keep himself out of foul trouble in the second half, Tilmon escaped with four fouls and Pickett was forced to leave the game at the 2:11 mark with five fouls.

Injuries also put a damper on Missouri’s play.

After rejoining the Tigers on the court for the first time Saturday afternoon at Ole Miss, sophomore guard Mark Smith went 0-7 on field goals and only grabbed two rebounds.

“Credit to the guy (Mark Smith) who wanted to be a part of his team, help his team win a game,” coach Martin said. “He had probably two inches of tape on his ankle.”

Forward Mitchell Smith had to be helped off the court after receiving an elbow to the neck and head area as Kentucky forward E.J. Montgomery came down from a shot around the seven minute mark of the first half. The redshirt sophomore played just seven minutes and had only one shot, a missed 3-pointer.

While Kentucky was forced to stay the night in Columbia, Missouri as snow hit the city during the game, Calipari wasn’t focused on the inconvenience, despite it being the first time in 19 years his team has had to stay overnight in the regular season.

“For us, this is a big time win,” Calipari said. “It’s a road win. In this league? You win on the road in this league, you’ve got something done.”

Suggs hopes Missouri can “put two halves together” as it enters its final five games of the regular season.

The Tigers travel to Gainesville, Florida this Saturday to take on the Gators for the first of those five games. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. CST.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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