Heartbreak in Indy: Despite Dru Smith’s best efforts, Missouri men’s basketball falls to Oklahoma
The Tigers’ season ended with a 72-68 loss in the First Round.
Mar. 20, 2021
Redshirt senior guard Dru Smith did everything he could to save Missouri’s season.
He made two three-pointers in two minutes early in the second half when Oklahoma looked like it was starting to pull away. He made two more in 10 seconds with less than a minute to go. And Smith cleanly stole the ball from the Sooners after the second three, giving Missouri the ball with nearly thirty seconds left, only down by three.
Smith and only Smith gave the Tigers, who trailed by eight before the first late three, hope. But Missouri never got a good look on its final possession and its season — and potentially Smith’s college career — came to an end Saturday night.
Despite No. 12’s best efforts at the end, the Tigers fell 72-68 to Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“He stepped up big, again,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He had a heck of a challenge on the defensive side of the ball with [Oklahoma redshirt senior guard Austin] Reaves, who’s a very talented player, and he embraced that challenge. And on the offensive side of the ball, you still gotta score and make plays, and he did both.”
Smith started slowly but the battle between him and Reaves played out as advertised. In a back-and-forth game, he scored 23 points. In typical Reaves fashion, 10 of those 23 came from the free-throw line, including six inside of the three-minute mark in the second half.
Smith defended Reaves hard, even picking up a steal on his signature back-tap at one point, but it wasn’t enough for the Tigers.
“Both those guys played extraordinary basketball, and they’ll play for a long time at the highest level,” Martin said.
On the interior, Missouri senior forward Jeremiah Tilmon picked up a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but the Sooners didn’t let him score easily.
After the Tigers’ first half-court possession in which he posted up Oklahoma senior forward Brady Manek one-on-one and scored easily, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger learned his lesson. The Sooners swarmed Tilmon every time he got the ball.
“I was expecting what happened tonight,” Tilmon said. “They were sending the double-team and either coming from the back side or the high side, just knowing which way they were coming from. I was expecting it and that’s what happened, honestly.”
Manek, meanwhile, made five of Oklahoma’s seven threes on the night. One concern about the matchup between Manek and Tilmon was that Manek would be able to get open and make shots easily, and that’s exactly what happened.
Missouri tried to switch forwards Kobe Brown and Mitchell Smith onto Manek in order to stop the three-ball, but to no avail.
“Those threes… were break-down threes,” Martin said. “Can he shoot the ball? Yes, and he gets off quick. But I think that was more breakdowns as opposed to great actions.”
Regardless of how it happened, Missouri’s season came to the end Saturday night, and as a team with five seniors, it hurt.
Getty Images captured Tilmon walking off the floor after the game. He had his jersey pulled up over his face, and junior guard Javon Pickett stood by his side to console the big man.
“It was pretty tough, especially expecting to win,” Tilmon said. “I wanted to at least make it past the first round. Everybody’s out there just going hard and playing. Nobody was expecting to lose. So it just got really emotional, walking off the court.”
While short, the trip to the Tournament was Missouri’s first since 2018 and only third since its infamous loss as a No. 2 seed to No. 15 seed Norfolk State in 2012. Missouri still hasn’t won a Tournament game since 2010.
With the futures of Tilmon, Dru Smith, senior guard Mark Smith, graduate transfer guard Drew Buggs and redshirt senior forward Mitchell Smith up in the air, it’s difficult to say when the Tigers will be back in the Big Dance again.
Edited by Eli Hoff | firstname.lastname@example.org