Plagued by shooting woes, Missouri can’t overcome Mississippi State

The Tigers shot 6-29 from 3-point range in the loss.
Missouri guard Dru Smith dribbles the ball against Mississippi State.

Saturday afternoon’s game had many qualities of a win for Missouri: Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith combined for 39 points, Reed Nikko had a quiet but efficient day in the post, Mitchell Smith chipped in double-digits and the Tigers outrebounded one of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference on the boards.

But a deeper look shows some of the same problems that have plagued Missouri all season: the Tigers shot 6-29 from 3-point range. Three players who logged more than 10 minutes didn’t score. Pinson and Smith, while scoring a lot in volume, weren’t very efficient. In the end, Missouri (14-15, 6-10 SEC) couldn’t overcome its shortcomings, losing 67-63 to Mississippi State (19-10, 10-6 SEC).

“If you take pride in rebounding, you’ll do what you need to do,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They’re a great rebounding team as well. I just think you gotta get shots to go. You have to get other guys giving production. I don’t have a number for us, points, but you gotta be more productive.”

With 12 minutes left in the second half, the game looked to be slipping away from Missouri. Aside from some long-range shooting woes, Missouri hadn’t played particularly poorly, especially compared to the 72-45 shellacking it endured the last time these teams faced off. Mississippi State had just been in control for much of the afternoon and seemed to be pulling away after an 8-0 run. But Pinson and Jeremiah Tilmon combined for a quick 7 straight points, and an emphatic putback dunk by Mitchell Smith brought the Tigers within a point.

Missouri briefly tied the game twice on ensuing possessions, but was never able to take the lead as Mississippi State kept the Tigers mostly at arm’s length for the final eight minutes of the game.

“We [had to] just settle down, and execute and do a better job,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “I thought part of that was their defense. We didn’t get a lot of good looks. They were getting stops and turning them into transition buckets.”

After shooting 4-17 on Wednesday against Vanderbilt, Missouri’s shooting woes continued. Dru Smith and Pinson combined to shoot 6-17 from beyond the arc. The rest of the team was 0-12.

“Open looks, we’ve just got to make them,” Pinson said. “We keep shooting them every chance we get. We always got to stay aggressive, no matter what. But about the open shots, we just got to make them fall and that’s up to us.”

Defensively, Missouri recovered from giving up 41 points in the first half to give a better effort in the second. The Tigers held the Bulldogs’ top scorer and rebounder Reggie Perry in check, limiting him to 12 points on 4-11 shooting.

“He’s a good player,” Mitchell Smith said. “I give respect where respect’s due. He plays hard. He’s a strong hard player, and you can tell he works on his game.”

Meanwhile, guards Tyson Carter and Nick Weatherspoon combined to score 27 and pick up the slack from Perry.

“Carter’s a good player,” Martin said. “Nick’s a good player. Nick made a big three, and that’s not really his strength, but can he make the shot? Yes. And that’s what happens when you have an experienced group of guys, battle-tested.”

Missouri attempted to make one last run in the final minutes of the game. Coming out of the last media timeout down 7, Dru Smith sank two free throws. A Pinson fastbreak layup got Missouri within a possession, but the Tigers never got closer than two points to Mississippi State in the last two minutes.

“It’s tough,” Dru Smith said. “He got right there a few times and we weren’t able to get over that hump, but I mean, it’s just something that we’ll have to deal with and something have to understand that we have to continue to play the same way consistently throughout the entire game.”

Missouri’s next game will be Wednesday, March 4 against Ole Miss.

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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