Just halfway: Cold second-half shooting dooms Missouri against No. 1 South Carolina

The Tigers followed a 56% shooting first half with a 27.3% second. Against the best team in the country, that didn’t cut it.

As Missouri and South Carolina retreated to their respective locker rooms at halftime, it looked like the No. 1 Gamecocks were on track to suffer a similar fate as they did Monday, a hard-fought overtime loss to No. 2 Connecticut.

Tied at 36, the Tigers had South Carolina right where they wanted it, but the effort to stay with the best team in the country fell short in the third quarter. Missouri couldn’t turn things around from there and lost convincingly, 77-62.

Foul trouble lurked throughout the first half for the Tigers, and it ultimately played a big role in the second-half struggles.

Aijha Blackwell and LaDazhia Williams, two of Missouri’s most productive scorers, each picked up two fouls in the first quarter. Shannon Dufficy, another important scorer off the bench, had three fouls before halftime. All three players saw their minutes decrease as coach Robin Pingeton tried to keep them out of trouble.

“I thought kids stepped up, Pingeton said. “We stayed true to the game plan. I thought we battled.”

One of those players was Shug Dickson. The senior guard scored 15 points and shot 50% both from the field and from beyond the arc. Despite coming off the bench, she played 26 minutes, good enough for the fourth-most on the team.

South Carolina raced out to a 10 point lead with 1:19 remaining in the third quarter and carried an eight-point deficit into the fourth quarter, but the Tigers shot just 4-17 (23.5%) in the fourth and didn’t give themselves any chance at a comeback.

“I think some of that’s on us,” Pingeton said. “We had some missed layups in the first and second half, but you’ve gotta give them a lot of credit. I thought they really turned up their defensive intensity. They guarded hard. If you do get an opportunity at the rim they make it awfully hard to convert on.”

The Tigers looked much better than the top team in the country in the first quarter. Missouri shot 62% from the field and Williams didn’t miss, scoring six points.

Not too much changed in terms of efficiency in the second quarter for the Tigers. Despite Blackwell, Williams and Dufficy on the bench in foul trouble, Missouri went 6-12 from the field and 3-6 from three to hang with South Carolina and head back to the visitor’s locker room knotted at 36 apiece.

But the Gamecocks came out of their dressing room with something to prove — and they did, with authority. They put together a 22-point third quarter, the most points scored in any frame by either team. They shot 66.7% from the field and held Missouri to just 14 points on 5-16 shooting.

Despite the loss and second-half collapse, the Tigers made big strides from when they last played South Carolina.

Last time out, on Jan. 16, 2020, South Carolina outrebounded Missouri 62-30. Tonight, the Tigers only lost the rebounding battle by eight.

But in the first half, Missouri recorded zero offensive rebounds and zero second chance points. South Carolina grabbed 11 offensive boards and created 11 second chance points from them.

“It’s just a ton to handle on the boards, for sure,” Pingeton said. “I thought we did a good job on the boards, not great. Obviously, you never want to give up 14 offensive boards but this is a tremendous offensive rebounding team.”

With the loss, the Tigers drop to 7-8 and 3-7 in SEC play. The Gamecocks remain undefeated in the SEC and have now won 27 regular season games against SEC opponents in a row.

Life doesn’t get too much easier for the Tigers. Missouri returns home to play No. 25 Georgia on Sunday in the annual Pink Game before going back on the road to take on No. 7 Texas A&M in College Station.

“This [the tough schedule] will pay off for us,” Pingeton said. “You don’t always get to see the fruits of your labor pay off immediately, but I’ve enjoyed coaching this team and I still think there’s some great opportunities out there in the month of February for us.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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