The Maneater

Missouri rallies, then beats itself late again to help Ole Miss snap seven-game skid

The Tigers turned the ball over 21 times and missed 11 free throws to spoil a comeback and gift Ole Miss a victory.

Kevin Puryear, 24 defends against South Carolina senior guard Sindarius Thornwell in 2017. Maneater File Photo

There was a moment when Missouri should have realized it wasn’t meant to be this time.

The team had just capped another spurt to close in on Ole Miss. A once 13-point deficit was sliced to 3 after Kassius Robertson’s deepest triple yet. Mizzou Arena was finally rocking.

Then Deandre Burnett banked a 3. It was his only basket of the game and became buried in the chaos that later developed, but at the time it was massive — at the end of a broken possession to double the Rebel lead. Even after Missouri later completed its comeback, even after it emphatically reared its head late to go ahead by 6, even throughout a tight overtime period, the sense was that Tony Madlock had revived the Rebels after a seven-game losing skid.

That ended up being the case, as Missouri (18-10, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) fell short of a necessary win in brutal fashion in a 90-87 overtime loss on Tuesday night. The Tigers rallied from down 13 in the last 15 minutes, squandered a 5-point advantage in the last two and couldn’t lead in the last four minutes of the agonizing extra frame on their way to a second straight demoralizing defeat.

“It’s mind-blowing,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. It was a painful game to lose at home.”

The score stood still at 88-87 in favor of Ole Miss for two entire minutes down the stretch in overtime. Missouri had plenty of chances to flip the lead during that time, but freshman bigs Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter missed four straight free throws that could have done the job.

“We’re obviously a better free-throw-shooting team than the last two games,” Martin said.

Junior Jordan Geist had a chance to win it for his team but got swallowed as he drove to the basket in the final seconds. After the Rebels made their foul shots, he had one last opportunity but left a last-second 3 short of the rim.

“It seemed like [Robertson] was open,” Martin said, “but we’ll see.”

Junior Kevin Puryear didn’t think that last possession was what cost Missouri the game, though.

“To blame Geist would be a disservice to us all,” he said.

What was the difference in this one then? When the Rebels were the ones playing from behind late in regulation, they didn’t miss their chance.

Missouri’s drastic turnaround peaked at a late 6-point lead and settled at a supposedly comfortable 81-76 mark with just over two minutes left.

It’s never truly comfortable for this team, though.

“Same thing that it has usually been,” senior Jordan Barnett said. “Missed free throws, turnovers down the stretch. Same old, same old.”

First came the turnovers. Two of them left the Tigers empty on back-to-back possessions, one of which occurred on an inbound pass — something that has happened all too frequently this season. The two mishaps counted toward 21 turnovers on the night, and, more importantly, allowed Ole Miss to cut Missouri’s lead to 1.

Then it was the free throws. Geist stepped to the line with 12 seconds left and a chance to force the Rebels into needing a 3. He bricked half of the pair, though, and Breein Tyree was able to go to the lane for a game-tying floater with 3.9 seconds left. He finished with a game-leading 25.

“Coach all week gave us the confidence to play loose and free,” Tyree said.

Robertson sent up a deep 3 at the buzzer, but it rimmed out, and the the Tigers’ own sense of playing from behind was back for five more minutes. They were cruelly reminded of charity stripe woes during that period when Tilmon and Porter couldn’t get them over the hump.

So what was the matter at the line on Tuesday night? Puryear was straightforward about it.

“We missed 11.”

For Ole Miss, the game marked the turning of a new page. It ended with a beacon of hope.

Even in the middle of the program’s state of turmoil prompted by former head coach Andy Kennedy stepping down two days ago, interim coach Madlock had the Rebels rearing to go from the beginning. An 11-4 lead stretched to 16-9 to 24-14 to 34-21. The Rebels looked like a new team. They couldn’t miss.

“We talked about it Sunday,” said Madlock, who was head coaching for the first time in his career. “It’s a fresh start, a new beginning.”

While the Tigers couldn’t fan a 6-for-9 outside shooting flame at one end, nothing would fall at the other. They were 2 for 8 from the same range, while seven turnovers plagued them in the first 15 minutes. It amounted to that 13-point deficit that was as daunting as it was unexpected.

“We have to get out of the gates early better,” Martin said.

Still, Missouri made a push late in the half that included a couple of Robertson 3s and one circus-finish plus one for Geist. The game got as close as 5 before Ole Miss made it to the halftime respite up 42-35.

That was the sense several times: that Missouri was finally making its decisive run, that Ole Miss was fading back toward its lackluster standard. But fives minutes into the second half, the Tigers looked up and saw the hole had been redug to match its largest yet: 13 points. They had no answer.

So it seemed.

Shots started falling, 7 unanswered points went the Tigers’ way and the crowd was rejuvenated. That Burnett banked 3 postponed the rally, but only for so long. A Geist triple with 4:56 left gave Missouri it’s first lead since 2-0.

The Tigers had learned their lesson; surely, they were going to get out of Mizzou Arena with a win.

As usual, that’s when it all came tumbling down.

“It’s embarrassing,” Puryear said. “There’s a bitter taste in all of our mouths right now.”

Missouri will try to wash out that taste at Rupp Arena on Saturday when the Tigers take on a revenge-hungry Kentucky team at 7:15 p.m. on ESPN.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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