Reserves impress, but No. 10 Missouri men’s basketball falls to Arkansas in overtime

Missouri lost its first Rally For Rhyan game and lost its first game decided by five points or fewer.

The day started on a somber note for Missouri, as announced less than half an hour before tipoff against Arkansas that starting forward Jeremiah Tilmon wouldn’t play Saturday following a death in his family.

As a result of Tilmon’s absence, rotation forwards Mitchell Smith and Parker Braun needed to step in to fill the void left by one of the most consistent big men in the Southeastern Conference.

Both big men and other reserves produced inspiring performances, but the Razorbacks put the first blemish on Missouri’s record in Rally For Rhyan games with a 86-81 overtime defeat of the Tigers.

“Teams have to focus on him a lot when he gets the ball in the post without Arkansas having a true big, that definitely took away from us,” guard Torrence Watson said. “Guys aren’t really making as many drives because JT is right there so we definitely missed them today. We tried to get the win but we came up short.”

Mitchell Smith got his first starting nod of the season in Tilmon’s place and propelled the Tigers to an early lead. Before the first media timeout, Smith had already recorded six points, three boards and a steal.

The 3-ball, which has seen some improvements in recent weeks, was back again as the Tigers sank 6-11 from 3-point land through the first 14 minutes. Three Tigers, guard Xavier Pinson, Smith and Watson each hit a pair of shots from beyond the arc.

Watson only played 5.9 minutes per game leading into Saturday’s contest, but he had been working hard nonetheless to receive the playing time similar to his first two years. After Missouri’s Feb. 3 win over Kentucky, Watson was spotted shooting around at Mizzou Arena. The dedication paid off with 26 minutes of playing time and a season-high nine points, which nearly matched his whole season total of 12 points.

“That's something that I've been doing pretty much every game now since I haven’t been playing as much,” Watson said. “I was making sure that I was getting to work in what is before shoot around, after we played, whenever we have morning practices always coming back just getting in the gym. I think it definitely paid off with my shots tonight.”

Arkansas closed the gap to end the half by chipping away with free throws to shorten Missouri’s lead to 35-31 after the Tigers led by as much as nine in the first half.

At the start of the half, Arkansas forward Connor Vanover commanded the Missouri defense’s attention, knocking down his first three shots of the half and swatting a Pinson layup in transition.

Arkansas’ starting big man was a non-factor in the Jan. 2 matchup in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but without Tilmon down low and a smaller lineup as a result, Vanover went to town in the second half, shooting 5-6 with three rebounds and a block in eight minutes of second-half action.

“A couple times I thought I was out there contesting that we locked fingers a couple of times and he still saw a couple go down,” Braun said. “It's definitely a matchup issue switching onto him because he can have eight or nine inches on a guard.”

Justin Smith came to play after he was a late scratch for the Jan. 2 matchup after undergoing ankle surgery in early January. The Arkansas forward played one of his best games of the season with 12 second-half points.

While the two Arkansas big men controlled the second half, guard Drew Buggs was the next rotation player to step up and produce a season-best performance. Buggs made his first 3-pointer of the year and scored eight points, the most in his Missouri career.

While Buggs made contributions to keep the Arkansas lead close, four different Razorbacks scored on an 8-0 run to make it a seven-point lead at the 11:02 mark.

But Missouri remained resilient, using the hot hands of Pinson and guard Dru Smith to rally from seven points down to knot the game at 60 apiece in less than three minutes.

Missouri was up and running again. The crowd stood cheering after three straight 3-pointers as Arkansas dribbled down the court.

Then the fouls came.

The officials called four fouls on Missouri in one 26-second possession, ballooning the Tigers foul total from two to six to the chagrin of the home crowd. The final foul resulted in two Jalen Tate free throws, both of which he sank.

After the foultastic possession, Arkansas outscored Missouri 13-9 to make it a four-point lead with 1:20 remaining. It became a two-possession game once Vanover hit Justin Smith with a beautiful feed for an easy lay-in.

Mitchell Smith got a tip-in to make it a two-point game before the third big man in the rotation, Braun, came alive in the last minute of play in regulation.

After an errant jumper from Arkansas guard Davonte Davis, bodies collided off to the left of the hoop. Guard Mark Smith came out of the scrum with the ball and found Dru Smith streaking up court.

Dru Smith drove toward the basket but could not get a clean look. He dumped it underneath to Braun, who was smothered by Vanover. Braun went up, adjusted in mid-air and laid it off the glass with a buttery smooth reverse.

On the next trip down, Arkansas had a chance to silence Missouri’s comeback effort, but the Tigers were given five more minutes to complete it after Braun swatted a Davis jumper.

Overtime was played as a one-possession game throughout as both teams traded the lead until the final minute. With less than a minute on the clock, Arkansas guard Moses Moody gets into the middle of the lane only to be stonewalled by the Missouri defense. Right before he was about to lose his balance, he snuck a pass into Davis for an easy lay-in.

Missouri got the ball back and called timeout and set up a play where everyone was above the free-throw line. Dru Smith caught the ball with free real estate, dribbled left for a layup before it was deflected at the rim by an Arkansas player.

Initially, the play was called goaltending, but upon further review, it was reversed.

“You can't really blame the refs,” Braun said. It's a tough call to overturn, but at the end of the day, we gotta step up and try to get the next one.”

Missouri got the ball back on the possession arrow, but Moody snatched the ball away from Braun in the middle of the lane. The Tigers had to foul the 81.1% free-throw shooter, who promptly swished both attempts.

On the ensuing possession, Pinson dribbled the ball into the corner off a Mark Smith screen where he launched an off-balanced 3 which hit no component of the basketball hoop and sailed into the hands of Justin Smith.

Braun fouled, leading to a mass exodus from those wearing black and gold, before Justin Smith sank both shots at the charity stripe to ice the game.

Saturday’s loss was the end of two important five-game winning streaks for Missouri. First, Missouri lost its first Rally For Rhyan game in six attempts. Second, the team dropped its first game of the season decided by five points or less.

The bench had some of their best performances of the season, but ultimately it was not enough to stop a fully healthy and productive Arkansas.

“It felt good, but at the end of the day, we didn’t get the win,” Watson said.

Edited by Caitlin Danborn |

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