Missouri men’s basketball keeps blowing leads

The Tigers have let five leads of 13 points or more slip away so far this season, including Tuesday night’s debacle against Georgia.

Five times this season, Missouri men’s basketball built up a double-digit lead and let it slip away.

It didn’t cost them against Alabama, Kentucky or Illinois, but it cost them in Starkville, Mississippi, in January and it definitely cost them Tuesday night

The Tigers built a 13-point lead with 15 minutes to go in the game. They had a golden opportunity to finish a team with an inferior record and ranking, cruise to an SEC road win and halt a three-game losing streak in its tracks.

They blew it. And if it wasn’t clear already, it is now: this Missouri team struggles to put teams away. The Tigers can’t blame it on Jeremiah Tilmon’s absence, either, because it became a pattern well before he began his leave of absence following a death in his family.

“I guess it is fair to say [it’s a pattern] if it’s happened five times,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “But I think different things happen in different games.”

Different things did happen in each game. For one, the beginning of the collapse has come at different points.

Illinois began to show why it was the No. 6 team in the country about halfway through the second half, and Mississippi State started to erase Missouri’s lead a couple minutes in. Kentucky came right out of the gate after halftime, and Alabama waited until about six minutes to go to start its surge.

Some comebacks were more gradual, like the Illini’s. Others were lightning quick — Georgia turned an 11-point deficit into a two-point deficit in just over two minutes.

Each one happened for a different reason. Illinois guard and National Player of the Year candidate Ayo Dosunmu almost single handedly doomed Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game, early second-half foul trouble hurt against Kentucky and the Tigers suddenly went cold from the field against Alabama.

Mississippi State and Tuesday night against Georgia were full-team collapses on both ends of the floor.

Missouri escaped three of those games. Kentucky was a cleaner win, but if not for Alabama’s Herb Jones missing an uncontested layup and Dosunmu firing a desperation three-pointer for no reason at all, it might not have been so lucky.

When teams do this, it’s often because they get complacent. They start to coast after building a lead instead of going for the jugular, and it costs them. Martin, however, insisted that the issue is execution.

“Down the stretch, [it’s] executing what we know, and it’s getting the ball inside, finishing at the rim, getting key stops, all those things that matter,” Martin said. “And it’s just a matter of doing it.”

The players who spoke after Tuesday’s game agreed, denying that there’s any complacency on Missouri’s bench.

“I know firsthand that every person on our team wants to win, and even guys who don’t get in as much, we all just want to win,” forward Kobe Brown said. “So I would say the biggest thing is just executing and taking care of business.”

That may be true, and on an experienced team like Missouri, it should be. But until the team proves it can maintain leads, the question of whether it’s a mindset issue will persist. And crucially, Martin’s coaching will be called into question because it’s his job to prevent mindset issues from happening.

It’s also his job to call timeouts when his team is giving up points. Tuesday night, while he had the under-12 timeout nestled in there, Martin didn’t use his first timeout of the second half until the seven-minute mark.

At that point, the Tigers were already down by five.

Whatever the issue is, Missouri has to figure it out and fix it before the NCAA Tournament starts. That Tournament will most likely include them. Assuming Missouri gets Tilmon back, which Martin said should happen soon, the Tigers should do well enough in their final four games and the SEC tournament to get in.

If nothing else, two wins against projected two-seeds will likely put them over the top.

But once Missouri gets there, it’s going to need to put teams away once it builds a lead. If it can’t do that, its season will end pretty early.

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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