Tigers lose heartbreaker to Arkansas

Missouri was unable to finish the game when it came down to the wire.
Missouri Tigers guard Deuce Bello (2) stands before Missouri's game against Arkansas on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. Arkansas beat Missouri 61-60.

It all came down to one possession. Missouri down by one, 17.2 seconds on the clock, and just enough time for Missouri coach Kim Anderson to draw up one last play and have his team leave the Mizzou Arena victorious.

Sophomore Wes Clark got the ball, drove the baseline and drew a foul with 3.3 seconds remaining.

Timeout, Arkansas. Ice the shooter.

Clark calmly strutted to the free-throw line, bouncing the rubber ball. One, two bounces, pulled up – off the rim. No good.

The referee bounce-passed the ball back into Clark’s grasp.

One, two bounces, pulled up – no good.

Iced.

And just like that, the Tigers saw their hopes of another marquee conference win slip out of their grasp. The sophomore point guard pulled his jersey over his face, hiding the tears – and image of the 61-60 score right above him – as he walked off the court.

But Anderson was clear when he interrupted a reporter to make one thing explicit.

“Wes Clark didn’t lose the game,” Anderson said. “I told the team the same thing I told you. Without (Wes), that situation probably wouldn’t have occurred. Nobody feels worse than Wes Clark about missing two free throws.”

Clark had made his previous two free throws earlier in the game, but he couldn’t convert when it mattered, a common theme for the young Mizzou team this season.

The Tigers have lost three of their six conference games by 10 points or less.

“It’s frustrating but we have to keep pushing,” sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III said. “Things are going to come around sooner or later.”

Williams, along with the rest of his teammates, is hoping for the sooner. After scoring 15 points Saturday afternoon, the sophomore is remains hopeful.

The Tigers struggled to find inside lanes to the paint early, settling for plenty of outside shots in the opening 10 minutes. Before the game, Anderson stressed the need for his team to get to the hoop and draw fouls, but his players failed to penetrate a stingy Razorback defense.

They did, however, control the board early in the game. The Tigers out-rebounded Arkansas 23-13 in the opening half, giving Missouri control of the offensive tempo.

The following 20 minutes were not so successful as the two teams finished the afternoon even at 39 rebounds apiece.

“In the second half they got a lot of offensive rebounds,” Anderson said. “In a game like this, little things make a difference. We don’t have that large margin of error.”

The season-high 11,022 fans at Mizzou Arena sparked the Tigers to go on a 17-6 run to end the first half. Mizzou led 34-30 after the opening 20 minutes, shooting 39.4 percent of their field goals and 38.5 percent from three.

The Tigers committed just three fouls in the first half, allowing a single point from the foul line, but a sloppier second half resulted in 10 team fouls. Despite giving the Razorbacks' repeated trips to the line, Anderson was quick to compliment Clark’s defensive play on Michael Qualls.

The junior guard for Arkansas averaged over 17 points per game entering Saturday’s contest, but he was held to just eight points in 33 minutes on the floor.

“Wes did a good job on Qualls,” Anderson said. “They were 4-16 on threes, and I thought we did a good job defensively.”

Anderson’s Tigers also handled the Arkansas press with poise. Forty straight minutes of full-court press often breaks the back of an exhausted offense, but senior guard Keith Shamburger and Clark repeatedly managed to escape the suffocating defense.

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was impressed with Mizzou’s ability to find a way past the press, but his Razorbacks were the real escape artists, slipping out of Columbia with a one-point win.

“It’s a game that could have gone either way,” Mike Anderson said. “But in conference play, that’s how things are going to go. Everybody knows each other.”

When in dire need, Clark bailed out his team, scoring six straight points to bring the Tigers back within two points. Freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar hit a pair of threes to take a brief lead with under two minutes remaining.

Clark’s eight points look good on paper, but unfortunately for him, nobody will remember his six-point run. Two balls bouncing off the rim as the clock expired will be the image stuck in fans’ minds.

“It wasn’t his fault and after the game we told him that,” Gill-Caesar said. “We win together and lose together.”

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