Missouri falls 73-68 in final minutes of regular season against Ole Miss

The freshman duo of Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson led the Tigers on senior day, both with career-high performances.
Guard Torrence Watson sticks his tongue out in celebration of a made 3-pointer in the first half of the Missouri vs. Ole Miss men's basketball game on Saturday, March 9 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

With the Ole Miss Rebels up by 4 points and less than a minute remaining in the game, freshman Torrence Watson had two opportunities to bring the Tigers back within one point: both 3-pointers, one from the left corner and one from near the top of the arc.

Minutes earlier, at the 2:03 mark, the Rebels tied the game again after momentarily losing its first lead of the half. Points on a fast break and a jumper, both from sophomore Devontae Shuler, gave the Rebels a lead that would carry them through to the end of the game.

“I thought Shuler did a great job attacking downhill and making big shots,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.

Despite leading from the 6:33 mark of the first half through the 5:03 mark of the second, Missouri (14-16, 5-13) fell to Ole Miss (20-11, 10-8) 73-68 to end the regular season. While a win could have bumped the MU above Texas A&M in SEC Tournament seeding next week, the Tigers will remain the No. 12 seed.

In the final minutes of the Saturday’s first half, sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon and freshman Xavier Pinson lit up the court for Missouri. Tilmon’s first points of the game came from the charity stripe after a foul from senior Bruce Stevens at the 4:32 mark of the first frame. The forward then went on a 6-point run to give MU a 5-point lead coming out of the under-4 minute timeout.

Pinson added to the lead with two layups and a 3-pointer in the final three minutes of the half, outdoing his last three games combined. His points, as well as a 3-pointer from Watson, pushed Missouri’s lead to 34-26 at half. It was the largest lead MU saw all game.

While the Rebels could only sink one from behind the arc in the first frame, the Tigers made 71.0 percent of their shots from 3 despite missing Javon Pickett. The freshman has shot 32.4 from the 3-point line this season, but was benched with back spasms on Saturday afternoon.

“He’s been struggling with his back and was hurtin’ in the Georgia game,” Martin said. “I just felt like it’s not worth it for him to be on the floor.”

In the second half, Pinson continued bringing the heat, scoring 13 points and finishing with 20 to set a new career-high. He also had three rebounds and six assists on just two turnovers.

“Man, that was crazy,” Watson said of Pinson. “We’ve been waiting on something like that. I think everyone on the team knows what he can do.”

Watson added 5 more points to the 9 he scored in the first frame, finishing the game with 14 points and 4 rebounds. He played a season-high 39 minutes in his fourth start this season.

“Watson has been really good,” Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said. “Like Breein [Tyree] said, Pinson was great today. They’ve got a bright future here with those perimeter players.”

The Rebels found their 3-point game in the second half, sinking 7-of-14 from behind the arc. Outshooting Missouri from both in front of the arc and behind it, Ole Miss also hit 10-of-12 free throw attempts off of 11 Tiger fouls in the second frame.

Both of MU’s point guards, Pinson and senior Jordan Geist, finished with four fouls. Tilmon and senior Kevin Puryear each finished with three. The Tigers finished with 18 total fouls, while the Rebels were called for 16.

Tilmon and Geist both finished with double-digit point performances, with 11 and 12 points each. Tilmon also gathered seven rebounds, two blocks and one steal.

The loss fell a bit harder on Missouri’s shoulders, as the team had celebrated its four seniors prior to the game.

“Really wanted to get [the seniors] a win,” Watson said. “That’s just a really tough loss, especially when you know those guys won’t play on this floor again.”

Puryear, who scored 6 points and had just one rebound in his final game at Mizzou Arena, was sentimental following the game.

“When he came in, I kind of took [Watson] under my wing, so I’m extremely proud of the way he’s been playing,” Puryear said.

He was also reflective of his time at Missouri.

“I think that the relationships, that goes a long way,” Puryear said. “I’m never gonna forget that as long as I live. And I feel like, especially the senior group we have, I mean, we’re gonna be friends until the day we die.”

Missouri has at least one more game to play this season as it’s set to head to Nashville, Tennessee for the SEC Tournament next Wednesday where it will likely take on the No. 13 seed, Georgia. The Tigers bested the Bulldogs in their own arena earlier this week, 64-39.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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