Unreliable shooting remains problem for Missouri in loss

The Tigers have had flashes of promise from beyond the arc at times this season. They haven’t been enough.
Xavier Pinson takes a 3-pointer during the second half of Missouri's loss to Texas A&M. Photo by Kirubel Mesfin

For much of the first half against Texas A&M Tuesday night, Missouri couldn’t buy a basket, especially from behind the 3-point line.

After junior guard Mark Smith connected from behind the arc the Tigers’ opening possession, Missouri didn’t make a field goal for over eight minutes, missing nine shots in the process. Even after sophomore guard Javon Pickett knocked down a 3-pointer with 10:06 left in the half, shooting remained a struggle.

Then, as quickly as the drought began, it stopped. Guard Xavier Pinson split a trio of defenders to get to the basket for a layup with just under four minutes left in the half and the Tigers went on to make five of their last six shots heading into the break.

After halftime, though, the shooting touch was gone as quickly as it had come. Missouri opened the period by taking six 3-pointers in its first seven possessions. None of them went in and the Tigers finished game 15-50 from the field. A furious late-game comeback wasn’t enough as Missouri lost when sophomore Torrence Watson’s 3-pointer fittingly missed the mark at the buzzer.

“You can always say shot selection in games [is the problem] when you’re playing against good teams because they force you to do certain things and that can go both ways,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “But I think part was having shots not falling.”

The Jekyll-and-Hyde act is nothing new to Missouri. The Tigers picked up their only Southeastern Conference win against Florida on Jan. 7, shooting 12-19 from 3-point range in the route. Three days later, Missouri shot 5-25 from behind the arc and was consequently dominated by Mississippi State.

“We have to keep our concentration,” Smith said. “Just keep trusting it. I feel like we’re getting better each game, and we’re learning. So eventually I feel like we’re just gonna hit a hot streak and keep it moving.”

Ironically, free throws, shooting at its simplest form, were one of the few reliable parts of Missouri’s game on Tuesday. The Tigers sank 25-26 from the charity stripe and set an NCAA record with 54 straight makes dating back to last Saturday’s game against Alabama.

Those makes from the free throw line, coupled with more consistent results in practice than in games, left Martin hopeful his team could turn it around.

“I don’t doubt that we can make shots,” Martin said. “I don’t doubt that. Just gotta knock them down. They spend time with them, and eventually, they’ll go down.”

The possibility of Missouri getting hot from beyond the arc was a risk Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams was willing to take. The Tigers attempted a season-high 35 triples, making nine of them. Williams’ strategy of encouraging Missouri’s outside shooting paid off — even with an unsatisfactory defensive performance from the Aggies.

“The way our defense is designed, we want to force teams to shoot a lot of 3’s,” Williams said. “So one of the key statistics for us is the type of contest on those attempts, and our numbers were the worst they were all year.”

Despite the lack of consistency, Martin has no intention of changing the way his team plays. He’s willing to keep shooting and live with the consequences.

“What you do is what you do,” he said. “All of a sudden, you can’t ask a guy that’s not a great driver [to] become a great driver. I think guys play to their strengths … you have to do what you do.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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