‘What happened?’: Missouri collapses in second half in Starkville

The Tigers gave up runs of 15-0, 7-0 and 9-0 to Mississippi State in what became a blowout loss.

While No. 13 Missouri watched its first-half lead slip away, coach Cuonzo Martin continued to preach his message of composure, even-keel and one-play-at-a-time to his players.

That message has worked for Missouri this year. In their Braggin’ Rights win over then-No. 6 Illinois, the Tigers nearly blew their lead, but held on just enough to weather an Ayo Dosunmu onslaught. They held firm during comeback attempts by Oregon and Wichita State, too.

But not tonight.

After the loss, Martin gathered his players and staff in the locker room and asked them a simple question.

“What happened?”

15-0, 7-0 and 9-0 happened. Mississippi State scored flurries of unanswered points three separate times in the second half, turning a 14-point Tigers lead into a tie game into a losing effort into an embarrassing blowout, just like that.

“In the second half, it kind of got away from us,” center Jeremiah Tilmon said. “That’s on us, we don’t really have time to be having games to learn from. So that’s on us, for real, for real.”

The Bulldogs’ first run, which gave them a 44-43 lead with 13:07 to go, featured the two main reasons the comeback happened: guards DJ Stewart Jr. and Iverson Molinar.

Molinar brought Mississippi State to within five with a three-pointer and a layup, and Stewart took it from there. He knocked down three straight contested two-point jump shots to put the Bulldogs ahead.

“It’s just really, again, taking pride, keeping the ball out of the lane like we did in the first half — we didn’t do a very good job in the second half of keeping the ball in the lane,” Martin said. “I thought DJ Stewart made a couple tough shots, maybe three or four tough ones. Other than that, I thought Molinar was always getting in the lane. That can’t happen.”

Analytically speaking, Stewart’s mid-range jumpers — similarly to the shots Tennessee’s Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson kept burying against Missouri last Wednesday — are the worst shots in the game. Teams generally prefer more efficient attempts like layups and three-pointers, but two of Missouri’s last three opponents had players who drilled them.

Martin is less concerned about that and more concerned about letting scorers into the paint.

“The key with their team, if you allow their guards to get in the lane and make plays — they’re physical guards — if you help up, you better block the shot,” Martin said. “If not, their bigs on the backside are getting offensive rebounds, and that’s what happened. You gotta keep them out of the lane.”

Tilmon helps in the lane defensively, and he was Missouri’s best player by far on Tuesday. Unfortunately for him and the Tigers, Tilmon got into foul trouble in the second half, picking up his fourth with 8:17 remaining.

He left the game at that point, with Missouri trailing 53-52. When he came back in two minutes later, Missouri trailed 59-52.

Offensively, the Tigers’ shot selection suffered and they didn’t get to the line once in the frame.

“I thought they [lost composure in shot selection] in spurts when trying to get back into it,” Martin said. “I thought maybe one or two [times] before they started to make the run, instead of just continuing, like they talked about, take what they give you.”

Missouri mustered only 24 points after halftime, including precisely zero with Tilmon off the floor.

While Tilmon sat, all he could do was watch as the game slipped away.

“Nobody wanna be on the bench when you know you can be out there helping your team,” Tilmon said. “It just sucks.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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