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Post-Game Report: Mizzou collapses in second half at Mississippi State

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Cuonzo Martin felt Missouri played one of its best halves of the season during the first 20 minutes against Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Tigers shot 50 percent from the floor, scored 39 points and led by a dozen at the break.

The following 20 minutes represented, without question, the team's worst half.

Missouri saw a 14-point lead turn into a 15-point loss at Mississippi State, dropping the Tigers to 7-2 on the season and 1-2 in SEC play. Mississippi State went on a 15-0 run to take the lead with 9:23 remaining, then a separate 16-2 run to put the game away with just under four minutes left. In all, the Bulldogs outscored Missouri 51-24 after halftime, and Martin was left to wonder what had happened.

"That’s the one thing I said to our staff after the game, what happened?" Martin said. "... The second half, I couldn’t tell you. I’d need to watch film to see exactly what happened, but it just wasn’t the same.”

Below is our full report on the loss, starting with five things we learned.

Despite 16 points from Jeremiah Tilmon, Missouri watched a 14-point second-half lead turn into a 15-point loss against Mississippi State.
Despite 16 points from Jeremiah Tilmon, Missouri watched a 14-point second-half lead turn into a 15-point loss against Mississippi State. (USA Today)

* Missouri’s second-half meltdown resulted from equal parts ineffective offense and bad defense. Let’s tackle the defensive struggles first. After shooting just 34.6 percent from the field in the first half, Mississippi State couldn’t miss in the second. The Bulldogs made 19-of-28 field goals, 67.9 percent, in the final 20 minutes.

Almost all of that damage came from the backcourt duo of DJ Stewart and Iverson Molinar. The pair has shouldered most of the scoring for Mississippi State so far this season, with both averaging just over 18 points per game, but they took that to another level during the second half against Missouri. Molinar and Stewart combined to score 36 of Mississippi State’s 51 points in the second half and shoot 14-20 from the field. Every single point of the 15-0 run that gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the second half came from one of those two.

Martin acknowledged that both players hit some tough shots — particularly Stewart, who finished with a game-high 24 points. But he said Missouri's defense contributed to the guards' hot second half by allowing them to penetrate into the lane too often.

"We didn’t do a very good job in the second half of keeping the ball out of the lane," Martin said. "... That can’t happen. We gotta stop the ball high, force those bigs to shoot perimeter shots, and then, you shoot the ball, you gotta block out. And I thought we did all of those things in the first half.”

Indeed, Molinar and Stewart did almost all their damage inside the three-point arc. Mississippi State made just one three-pointer on two attempts in the final 20 minutes, but the Bulldogs shot 18-26 from inside the arc. They also got to the free throw line 13 times in the second half and made 12 of them, with Molinar and Stewart a perfect 7-7 combined.

"They got hot, and once they got hot, it was hard to turn them off," Missouri center Jeremiah Tilmon said. "So that was on us.”

* Missouri was unable to answer the hot shooting as its offense stagnated on the other end. The Tigers had carved up Mississippi State's defense during the first half, making 15 of 30 field goals and dishing 10 assists compared to just one turnover. But as Mississippi State got hot on the offensive end, the Bulldog defense improved, as well, and Missouri couldn't find an answer.

During the first half, 11 of Missouri's 15 made field goals came on either a dunk or a layup. The Tigers only made three such shots in the second. Mississippi State also made it more difficult for Missouri to find easy points in transition. All 15 of the Tigers' points off turnovers came in the first 20 minutes, and they scored 10 fastbreak points in the first frame compared to four in the second. Martin said he felt his team's shot selection faltered at times as Mississippi State was making runs and Missouri was pressing to try to answer.

The lack of easy two-point shots meant Missouri had to shoot more perimeter jumpers, which continues to be a weakness. The Tigers made five of 18 three-point attempts Tuesday; two of nine in the second half. That 27.4-percent clip actually represented a slight increase from Missouri's season average entering the game of 27.2 percent.

While the three-point shooting struggles are nothing new, Missouri was not able to make up for it with one of their usual sources of points: free throws. The Tigers entered Tuesday averaging 25.5 free throw attempts per game and 18.5 makes from the line. Missouri didn't attempt a single free throw during the second half against Mississippi State and just three on the game. The Bulldogs got whistled for only three fouls in the final 20 minutes. While he said it wasn't the reason Missouri lost the game, Martin took issue with the whistles afterward.

"I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen that in my career where you have a team that plays man to man and only three fouls in the second half," Martin said. "I like to think we were getting downhill, crashing the glass and all that. But it is what it is. You deal with it. Not to make any excuses, but it’s not as if they’re playing a zone. They’re playing a man-to-man defense. There are some fouls somewhere. And it was a physical game, so I thought there was contact on the floor. But that’s not the reason why we lost the game.”

* Another reason Missouri's offense struggled down the stretch was a lack of balance, something the Tigers had been able to count on for most of the season. Only four players scored points in the final 20 minutes, and only three made more than one field goal: Jeremiah Tilmon, Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith. Missouri got just 11 bench points during the entire game, with seven of those coming from Javon Pickett in one two-minute spree early in the first half.

Martin said that number needs to improve, and he specifically singled out senior forward Mitchell Smith. Smith scored four points but needed seven shots to get there against Mississippi State. He missed all four of his three-point attempts.

It wasn't Mitchell Smith's shot selection that Martin believes needs to improve, however. He said he's okay with the big man shooting threes when he's left open, as he was for all four attempts against Mississippi State. Those looks simply need to start falling.

"I want him shooting open threes," Martin said. "Those are shots he takes a lot in practice, he makes them in practice. I want him shooting those open threes, and I want him to be confident in shooting them.”

* One number that jumps off the box score: the rebounding margin. Mississippi State out-rebounded Missouri 37-22. The Bulldogs grabbed 10 of their own misses and turned them into 17 second-chance points, compared to just four for Missouri.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the Bulldogs would emphasize the glass. Mississippi State entered Tuesday ranked seventh nationally in offensive rebounding rate and 19th in total rebounding. Part of the issue, Martin said, started with breakdowns on defense. When Molinar and Stewart were able to penetrate into the lane, Missouri's big men had to help up to contest their shots, leaving the Bulldog forwards easy clean-up opportunities. "You help up, you better block the shot," Martin said. "If not, the big’s on the back side getting offensive rebounds."

But the bigger issue, according to Martin, was simply a lack of pride and willingness to battle on the boards.

"You know they’re crashing the glass," he said. "Now you just gotta take pride in boxing guys out. ... This is a team that will keep coming, they’ll keep hitting you and you have to take pride. And it can’t just be Jeremiah. Other guys have to take pride in hitting bodies and blocking out.”

* That last quote from Martin touches on the most troubling aspect of Missouri's loss. It wasn't the poor shooting or the porous defense or even the rebounding struggles, but the fact that all three happened at once and the Tigers didn't have an answer. Throughout the early portion of this season, Martin has complimented his players for their maturity and ability to battle through adversity. He's become fond of saying his experienced roster has "taken their lumps" and learned from the losses of the past couple seasons.

But as soon as Mississippi State found some momentum on Tuesday, Missouri pretty much folded. The Tigers had no answer, on either end of the floor, for the Bulldog run. That's not supposed to happen to a coach that preaches toughness above all else and a roster that features seven upperclassmen among its top eight minute-getters. Now, the question is whether Missouri can find an answer in the next four days before it hosts LSU at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“We gotta get more toughness in certain areas, especially in the second half," Martin said. "When teams are making a run, we gotta get a little more grit to us. And they made enough plays, and we just couldn’t bounce back.”

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: There's a lot that could fit in this category, but the biggest need for Missouri right now feels like a player who can consistently knock down a shot when the Tigers need a spark. The Tigers had one scoring drought that lasted more than five minutes and a separate five-minute, 46-second stretch during which they scored just two points. Pinson has shown flashes of being that guy, and while he did dish a career-high eight assists on Tuesday, he shot just 3-10 in the second half.

STAR OF THE GAME: The one bright spot for Missouri was the play of Tilmon, who backed up his career outing against Arkansas by leading Missouri with 16 points and six rebounds. He shot eight-of-10 from the field. Unfortunately, Tilmon found himself in a familiar position for part of Mississippi State's second-half run: on the bench with four fouls.

WHAT IT MEANS: Missouri's 20-point loss to Tennessee could be excused as an off night against a very talented opponent. Turning a 14-point second-half lead into a 15-point loss against an unranked opponent is significantly harder to swallow. Missouri does not look like a team that has any hope of winning the SEC or earning a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, both of which appeared to be on the table a week ago. It's clear that the Tigers simply have some flaws, especially on offense, that aren't going away, and as a result they can lose on any given night. Now, it should be pointed out that those would have seemed like overly lofty goals prior to this season, and Missouri should still be in decent shape to make the Big Dance, but Tuesday's was a sobering defeat for those hoping this could be a special season for the Tigers.

QUOTABLE: “We don’t really have time to be learning from games, but we gotta learn from this one and watch film and move on to the next one. We don’t really have too much time to dwell on the loss. We just have to keep moving and not dwell on our mistakes.” -- Jeremiah Tilmon

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