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Post-Game Report: Mizzou falls to Tennessee for fourth straight loss

Taking the court for the third time in the past five days and the fourth time in the past week, the story was much the same for the Missouri basketball team.

The Tigers hung around for a bit against No. 17 Tennessee, but a scoring drought of more than five minutes in the first half put them in a hole, and then a seven-plus minute stretch without the field goal in the second allowed the Volunteers to effectively put the game out of reach. The 80-61 loss marked the third 19-point loss in Missouri's past four games. The Tigers have now lost nine games this season by 19 or more.

The fourth consecutive defeat and ninth loss in the past 11 games dropped the Tigers to 10-18 with three games to play in the regular season. Here are five things we learned from the loss.

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DaJuan Gordon and Missouri struggled to stay in front of the Tennessee guards in an 80-61 loss.
DaJuan Gordon and Missouri struggled to stay in front of the Tennessee guards in an 80-61 loss. (Megan Fox)

1. Mizzou struggled to stay in front of Tennessee's guards, particularly star freshman Kennedy Chandler.

Chandler showed why he was one of the most highly-touted point guards in the country entering this season. He flirted with a triple-double, scoring 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and six assists. He didn't turn the ball over.

Missouri guard DaJuan Gordon shouldered the blame for Chandler's performance.

“A lot of that is on me," Gordon said. "I ain’t defend him well this game. I let him beat me in transition when I was supposed to stop the ball higher. We wanted to force him towards the middle, to his left hand. He’s a right hand driver. .. So we just didn’t lock on in the scouting report.”

More than blaming his own team, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin credited Chandler for his playmaking ability. He noted that Chandler found his production in a variety of ways. He scored in transition, he knocked down a pair of three-pointers, he got free on a couple of back cuts.

But Missouri's defensive issues started with its inability to stay in front of Chandler.

"He attacked, he went back door, he got a couple offensive rebounds, he scored it in transition," Martin said. "He made, I think, one or two threes. But your game plan is to keep him in front of you. Really, for a guy that fast, not to give him any angles. If anything, make him go over the top of you and score.”

2. It wasn't just Chandler who found scoring success against Missouri's defense. All nine Tennessee players who saw the floor scored. Four scored at least nine points.

Tennessee's offense has been spotty this season, as its loss at Arkansas Saturday illustrated. The Volunteers shot just 27.1 percent and mustered 48 points. It marked the fifth time this season they have scored 53 points or fewer.

But three days later, Tennessee found scoring opportunities plentiful. The Volunteers shot 45.2 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. Martin felt as though his frontcourt did a decent job on the defensive end, aside from giving up a few "key offensive rebounds in the second half." But with Chandler and fellow guard Zakai Zeigler able to beat the man in front of them off the bounce seemingly at will, the Tiger defense crumbled.

"I thought we had great action when they came off the ball screen to trap the ball screen, so they kind of went away from that," Martin explained. "But the biggest thing, you make them go over the top. You don’t give angles. If anything, they shoot pull-ups over you — and they actually made one or two. But you can’t allow those guys with that speed to get an angle and get to the rim, now they’re dumping off to the bigs.”

3. On the other end of the floor, shooting continued to be a struggle for Missouri.

The Tigers entered Tuesday night ranked No. 353 out of 358 Division I teams in three-point shooting at 27.9 percent. They failed to meet that percentage, making just five of 20 attempts from behind the arc against Tennessee. It marked the 11th time this season and the third game in a row that Missouri has shot 25 percent or worse from deep.

Martin has been critical of his team's shot selection in the past, but he didn't believe that was the primary issue in this matchup. Instead, he said his players simply didn't make enough one-on-one plays. Tennessee, which ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency, forces opponents to do just that.

"In most cases, when teams switch one through four or one through five — and they started switching five ways — then it comes down to making one-on-one plays," Martin said, "and that’s an area we have to continue to grow in.”

Martin felt his team got decent looks, especially given Tennessee's stingy defense. But the team missed some valuable opportunities to keep pace with the Vols. Those weren't just three-pointers that didn't fall. According to the official stats, Missouri made 10 of 19 layup attempts.

"I don’t think it’s a case of really settling for three-point shots," Martin said. "I don’t think it’s that. Because you have to take open shots. I just think you have to make shots. I mean, there were several shots at the rim we’ve got to make."

4. Martin departed from his norm by playing Kobe Brown after he had picked up two fouls in the first half. It didn't make much difference.

Brown played a solid game. He scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished two assists. And his return did help in the first half. The Volunteers scored nine straight points between Brown picking up his second foul and heading to the bench and his return to the court. Tennessee ultimately took a nine-point lead into the locker room.

But Brown's decent game without much help wasn't nearly enough to match Tennessee's offensive outburst. Martin complimented Brown's aggressiveness on the offensive end but said he needs to get back to rebounding like he did earlier this season. Brown has now gone nine straight games without logging double-digit boards after hitting that mark seven times in the first 19 contests.

"You’re asking a lot of Kobe to play a lot of minutes and bang with big guys," Martin said, "but you gotta be aggressive, gotta get offensive rebounds. Because he was a much better offensive rebounder in the non-conference than he is in league play."

5. Martin and his players at least say they haven't given up. With only eight healthy players available for the past five games and the team not playing for much of significance, it would be easy to. And Martin acknowledged that the team isn't exactly "smiling and having a party" in the locker room.

But both he and senior Javon Pickett expressed confidence that the players are still bought in.

“I feel like we try to go into every practice with a good mindset, good energy," Pickett said. "Everybody wants to go and get better. Nobody wants to continue to lose. But it’s places where we could see growth at. ... We just have to go out there and play hard. It’s nothing wrong with getting hot towards the end of the season and doing what we need to do to make a run in the SEC tournament. So just continuing to lock in and do what the coaches ask us to do.”

Star of the Game: Chandler reminded the fans in Mizzou Arena what a dynamic point guard can do. The five-star freshman seemingly got anything he wanted on the offensive end, needing just 12 shots to score his 23 points.

Room for Improvement: Missouri got beat soundly on the boards. Tennessee out-rebounded the Tigers 40-34. The Volunteers turned 12 offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points. That's always bad news for Missouri, which is now 0-15 when it loses the rebounding battle this season.

What it means: The loss doesn't come as a surprise. Tennessee entered Tuesday having won eight of its past nine SEC contests. But each additional defeat means the Tigers are running out of opportunities to add to their win total. With a road trip to LSU looming this weekend, it's virtually impossible to see this team winning more than 12 wins in the regular season. That doesn't help Martin's case to return for a sixth season.

Next up: Missouri will travel to Baton Rouge to face Xavier Pinson and LSU on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Quotable: “I think with rest, I think they’ll be fine. … They’re fighters. I don’t worry about that part. But I just know it takes a toll on you. It’ll be great to have a day off tomorrow and get back at it.” -- Cuonzo Martin


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