Defensive errors and foul shooting hinder Mizzou’s comeback in the SEC’s latest road loss

Once down 21 points on a bad shooting night, No. 20 Missouri basketball jumped back within four of Wednesday’s lead at Texas A&M midway through the second half. That’s when first-year head coach Dennis Gates thinks he’s made a huge mistake.

Texas Am Missouri Basketball

Texas A&M forward Henry Coleman III (15) dunks against Missouri during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, January 11, 2023, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

Sam Craft

With the Tigers facing A&M against the ropes, Gates let play continue. Minutes into the 82-64 loss, he wished he’d asked for a timeout to “reset our mindset and get more into a protective stance,” he said, “in exchange for continuing to be as aggressive as we are.”

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For the first two months of the season, Mizzou’s aggressive defensive nature helped stack up the most steals in the country and sparked an offense that went cold at times in the half court. On Wednesday, the Tigers’ aggression worked against them.

From the time D’Moi Hodge’s second straight 3-pointer cut A&M’s lead to 50-46 with 10:20 left to play, the Tigers (13-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) have committed eight fouls within 4:36 Next, he missed 4 of 5 shots, turned the ball over twice and missed 2 free throws. This is how Texas A&M (11-5, 3-0) regained control with a 15-3 run to put out Mizzou’s career for good.

Against a Tigers that A&M coach Buzz Williams called the most unique in the country with its relentless pace and ever-changing defense, the Aggies had to dictate a slower pace in the game, pressing on the edge with physical drives, counter-attacking and taking advantage of the free throw line. The team did all of that and more, capitalizing on Mezzo’s 29 errors with 32 free throws.

“They’ll make the plays,” Williams said. “It’s a constant tug-of-war: Are you going to play the way you want to play that gives your team the best chance or are you going to try to join them and play what they’ve proven to be the elite at work?”

Back on the road for the second time in two weeks, the Tigers have discovered that the style that got them to such a scorching start to the season doesn’t work the same way on the road in the SEC, especially against an Aggies team that appears to have recovered from a shaky start to the year.

The Tigers followed up one of their worst halves of the season with a second-half surge at Reed Arena, but in the end they couldn’t overcome their dreadful early shooting. Against a glass-controlling Texas A&M team living at the free throw line, Mizzou picked a bad night to freeze from the 3-point arc. The second highest scoring team in the country when the game came out missed 16 straight 3-pointers and finished the night 7 of 31 while hitting a season worst 35.6% from the floor overall. After leading in the second media timeout, Mizzou went nearly 11 minutes between field goals, missing 10 straight shots during the drought. Two of the Jets’ leading scorers, Kobe Brown and Hodge, were on and off the field with early errors.

From his standpoint on the sideline, the Jets thought the Tigers were taking good shots on offense. They were not falling as usual.

“I thought Texas A&M did a great job competing for shots, but we had guys making those shots,” Gates said. “We had an easy, open look. We just have to go back and reset and obviously not let this discourage us by any means.”

Texas Am Missouri Basketball

A foul is committed by Texas A&M forward Julius Marble (34) while making a basket against Missouri during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, January 11, 2023 in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

Sam Craft

The opening minutes were ominous. Hodge, the team’s leading scorer and killer 3-point shooter, lifted a volley from 3-point range on Mizzo’s first possession. After a turnover, Mizzou’s next possession ended with Tre Gomillion hitting the top of the backboard. Hodge’s consecutive 3s in the second half closed the gap on the Aggies, but missed the other eight 3s. Noah Carter shot 1 of 7 from deep. Guards Nick Honor, Sean East II, and DaAndre Golston all combined to make 3 of just 11.

For the game, Mizzou’s 22.6% from behind the arc was the team’s second worst outing of the season. The Tigers shot 21.2% in their overtime win over Wichita State.

“I think if you look at the way we started the game, D’Moi Hodge missed his first shot entirely — and it was a wide open shot,” Gates said. “It’s uncharacteristic. But that also can put you in a space of my mind where, ‘Well, that first person didn’t get in, but maybe that second one can.’ But guys from Noah Carter to Nick Honor, we just have to do what we normally do and make Those shots. If I had to do it again, I would have these guys shoot the same shots because I’ve seen them go in over and over again.”

The Tigers made just 1 of 10 three-pointers in the first half and finally came out of the drought on the Eastern pontoon with 2:55 left, mercifully ending what was a 10:52 stretch with no field goal. Texas A&M entered the locker room with a 43-25 lead.

Whether it’s drives and bowls from big men Henry Coleman and Julius Marple or corner threes from Tiger hitman Hayden Hefner, the Aggies have their way with Mizzou throughout the half. Hefner, who scored a career-high 17 points against MU last year, scored only 13 in A&M’s previous 10 games but scored 12 in the first half on Wednesday.

Texas Am Missouri Basketball

Missouri guard Kobe Brown (24) sinks over Texas A&M forward Julius Marble (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, January 11, 2023 in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

Sam Craft

“We just tried to tell each other not to blink, not to give up,” said Brown, who led Mizzou with 12 points but had foul trouble (again) and scored only two points in the second half. “We knew we had it. We felt like we were the better team. We didn’t show it, but we just had to keep our mindset of digging ourselves a hole (and) now we have to dig ourselves out of it.”

The Aggies nearly fell apart to open the second half, just as Mizzou finally broke free from his shot sluggishness. Gholston’s 3-pointer 7:36 in the half broke MU’s stretch of 16 consecutive errors from depth. The turning point seemed to arrive at 11:14 left, when A&M’s Wade Taylor IV delivered an elbow to Honor’s chin while waiting for a teammate to catch the ball, giving the Tigers two free throws and the ball, which Hodge converted to a 3. pointer. He quickly drained another to get the Tigers within four, all part of a 10-0 series lead. But the tigers never came close. Hodge fouled with 5:30 left. The assembly has been written off.

One slight positive for Mezzo: Mohamed Diarra came off the bench for the first time in an SEC game and was on the floor for a season-high eight minutes, finishing with a point, two rebounds, two steals and a block. Going forward, the 6-foot-10 small college All-American can help produce bad MU on the boards. A&M finished with a 41-25 rebound advantage—the 14th opponent through 16 games to knock the Tigers off the rebound.

“He’s practically responded in the last couple of days and he’s had some incredible practice,” Gate said. “So without a doubt he got it.”

Two years ago, the Tigers started February with the same record they now have, 13-3, and climbed up the national rankings with some promising wins over ranked foes. But from there, the team imploded, losing seven of their last 10 games, including a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. This Mizzou squad features just one player from that roster—Brown, the starting tackler—but for the program to avoid a repeat of history, these next three games will go a long way toward shaping the rest of the season. After that, Mizzou stays on the road and plays Saturday in Florida, then heads home to host nationally ranked Arkansas and Alabama next week.

“I don’t know if there’s one clear answer as to why there wasn’t as much energy until later in the game,” said Brown. “I know we have to fix it for the next game. We can’t let that happen again.”

In today’s 10am video, writer Ben Hochman discusses what makes Mizo tigers tick. Also, a happy birthday shout out to OneRepublic’s Drew Brown! And as always, Hochman picks a random St.Louis Card from the hat.

Benjamin Hockman

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