Dog-eat-dog world: No. 20 Missouri falters to third-straight loss at Georgia

The Tigers blew a second half lead in their fifth-consecutive game as their conference record fell to 6-6.

Missouri men’s basketball (13-6, 6-6 SEC) lost back-to-back games for the first time all season despite holding a second half lead in both games with a blowout at Ole Miss and an overtime loss to Arkansas at Mizzou Arena.

The Tigers made it a third-consecutive defeat with another blown lead in an 80-70 loss on the road against Georgia (13-8, 6-8 SEC).

The start of the game played out in an eerily similar fashion to Missouri’s loss to the Rebels last week , as the Tigers allowed Georgia to open 9-14 (62%) from the field and grab a 23-17 lead 10 minutes into the first half.

Georgia guard Sahvir Wheeler cooked Missouri guards off the dribble and the Bulldogs got into the paint with ease. His backcourt mate Justin Kier matched his energy with 10 points in the opening nine minutes.

After Georgia took the early six-point advantage, Missouri came to life on defense with a high-flying block from forward Kobe Brown and an interception from guard Dru Smith that turned into fastbreak points. The defensive intensity paired with an 11-0 run on the offensive end as Missouri took a five-point lead with 6:27 remaining.

Brown played his best offensive game in a Missouri uniform with a career-high 21 points to go along with a habitually solid defensive performance.

“I think the key with him was just being aggressive mentally, the mindset to look to score and maybe because of [Jeremiah] Tilmon not being out, he probably felt like,’I need to do that,’” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “But it wasn't as if we put more pressure to say, ‘We need you to score.’ I just felt we felt like there was an opportunity for him and he got off to a great start early.”

Missouri also received much needed production from its bench in Tilmon’s absence. Forward Parker Braun followed up a strong end to Saturday’s Arkansas game with seven points and three assists, while guard Drew Buggs with high plus-minus was one of two players to finish with a positive plus-minus at +10.

“They've been locked in the hotel, especially Parker,” Brown said. “Not being able to play as much up until the last few games shows he's been locked in in practice, just paying attention even though he's not playing and his number was called he's been ready for it.”

Missouri ended the half with a 37-33 lead and started the second half on fire with an 11-2 run to make it 48-35.

However, once fouls started to pile up, it became a whole different ball game.

In the midst of guard Mark Smith’s bounceback performance after going 0-8 from the field on Saturday, he took a seat on the bench with four personal fouls to his name. As a result of his fouls and the whole team’s foul calls, Georgia entered the bonus less than seven minutes into the second half.

Without Mark Smith on the court, the Bulldogs proceeded to go on a 21-5 run over a six-minute span. A 3-pointer from guard Jaxon Etter, who averaged 2.1 points per game before Tuesday, brought the Georgia bench to life as the Bulldogs pulled within a possession. Not long after, a fastbreak layup from forward K.D. Johnson completed the comeback to tie the game at 53.

Missouri lost the lead for good when it went on a field goal cold streak that lasted from a Kobe Brown shot that tied the game at 62 until there was under a minute left and Georgia’s win was in the bag.

Another SEC game, another blown lead.

“That's one of those things that we talk about,” Martin said. “You have to understand how you got to lead and maintain it. Just because there's a lead and the shot seems to be easier and looks good, it's not the best shot if that's not who you are all the time.”

Where do the Tigers go from here? Missouri has played its last two games without Jeremiah Tilmon and his production has needed to fill his massive shoes down low.

But Tilmon has been on the court for some monumental collapses throughout the season. Missouri didn’t give up 80 points in the first 12 games of the season. This is the fourth game out of six where the Tigers gave up at least 80 points, and the other two games featured double-digit blown leads.

It’s not time for Missouri to hit the panic button. Not yet, at least. But with two dangerous games against an Ole Miss team that beat them by 21 points last week and upset-minded Florida, the road to the SEC Tournament doesn’t get much easier.

“I just thought we had great energy,” Martin said. “Great game plan in everything we were trying to do. We just couldn't maintain it for whatever reason.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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