Missouri falls behind in fourth quarter, can’t recover in loss at Auburn

Missouri rode a dominant first quarter to a 74-65 home win over Auburn last month, but could not complete the season sweep on the road.
Mizzou guard Lauren Aldridge dribbles during the game against Vanderbilt on Feb. 10, 2019.

A fourth-quarter lead disappeared at Florida. An even first half gave way to a lopsided second half at Kentucky. The third-quarter blues turned up again at LSU.

And on Sunday afternoon in Auburn, Alabama, Missouri let another winnable SEC road game slip away.

Missouri (19-9, 8-6 SEC) and Auburn (20-7, 8-6) battled in a low-scoring, back and forth contest at Auburn Arena. But a 20-9 advantage in favor of the home Tigers in final period of play proved to be the difference in a 58-54 Auburn victory.

For Auburn, the win will likely go down as one of its most memorable of the season, both because of its impact on the Tigers’ NCAA tournament resume and because it came on the team’s senior day.

For Missouri, it is another entry in a growing list of SEC road games that could have been won with a more complete second half performance. It leaves the Tigers’ hopes of finishing in the SEC’s top four in serious jeopardy.

Both offenses got off to slow starts in a first quarter that set the tone for the tight, defensive game. Both teams shot below 40 percent from the field as Auburn took an 11-9 lead by the end of the period.

Auburn maintained its lead through most of the second quarter, but could not pull away from Missouri to take a commanding lead. Shooting and scoring improved slightly for both teams as Auburn took a 26-22 lead into halftime.

Turnovers have been a thorn in Missouri’s side all season, and Sunday was no different. The road Tigers committed 12 of their 19 giveaways in the first half, while Auburn limited itself to just six in total on the afternoon.

Missouri came out firing after the break, beginning the third quarter on a 5-0 run to wipe out Auburn’s halftime advantage. Missouri actually bettered its first half score in the third quarter alone, outscoring Auburn 23-12 in the period to take a 45-38 lead into the fourth. Then things began to go south for coach Robin Pingeton’s squad.

Early in the fourth quarter, freshman point guard Akira Levy exited the game with a knee injury. Levy, like most of both teams’ offensive threats, had struggled from a scoring standpoint on the afternoon, but had put in work on the defensive end with two steals. Her energetic, highlight-inducing style of play has attracted attention from opposing teams all year.

Pingeton said in a postgame radio interview that doctors believe the injury is serious.

Auburn scored the first 11 points of the final frame before senior Cierra Porter finally put Missouri on the board with 4:51 left. She fouled out a few minutes later with 7 points and four rebounds.

Missouri never let the game completely slip away as time wound down, but could not regain the lead it held after the third quarter. Apart from a 7-point burst in the final minute of play, Porter’s basket represented Missouri’s only points in the fourth quarter.

The loss leaves Missouri in a close cluster of teams around the middle of the SEC standings. In order to finish in the top four and earn a double bye for the conference tournament, the Tigers will likely have to win their final two games against Arkansas and Alabama and get help from other results.

If things go wrong over the season’s final week, Missouri could finish as low as 10th.

Missouri will be back in action on Thursday at Arkansas. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CT.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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