ST. LOUIS — The hype was there. There was no doubt about that.
For the first time, the Southeastern Conference Tournament was held in St. Louis, Missouri’s virtual backyard. The Missouri faithful showed out in a big way, as well.
The Scottrade Center held 15,129 people, many of whom were excited to see freshman Michael Porter Jr. play for the first time since the Nov. 10 season opener.
For 6 1/2 minutes, everything went according to plan for the Missouri men’s basketball team. Then the bottom fell out.
Missouri struggled to get into any offensive rhythm and fell to No. 12 seed Georgia 62-60 in the second round.
The No. 5 seed Tigers (20-12) shot just 34 percent from the field and 32 percent from behind the arc.
Georgia (18-14) is one of the best 2-point field-goal-percentage defenses in the country, though.
The Bulldogs hold teams to under 43 percent inside the arc. Missouri, which missed 14 shots in a row midway through the first half, shot 35 percent inside the arc.
“We’ve always been good defensively,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “Obviously, we’ll need to be very good defensively the rest of the tournament.”
Despite the poor shooting, Missouri found itself in a one-possession game with under 10 seconds left.
Porter didn’t have the return he wanted – he scored just 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting – or many in attendance were hoping for, but his brother Jontay Porter continued his impressive play.
Jontay Porter finished with 20 points – his second 20-point performance in three games – and eight rebounds. But, with seven seconds on the clock, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin went to his All-SEC senior, Kassius Robertson.
Robertson, a 42 percent shooter from deep, came off of a screen to the left corner. As Jordan Geist moved to the left wing, his only thought was to get the ball in Robertson’s shooting pocket.
There was no doubt that he was going to get open.
“It was a great play call,” Geist said. “I, along with everybody on the team, knew, or thought, it was going in.”
“Every other time, it does,” Geist said.
Jordan Barnett grabbed the offensive rebound, but nobody could corral it in time to attempt the potential tying shot.
Well before Robertson’s shot missed, he hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 39. Robertson’s shot, with 14:11 left, was answered by an onslaught by Georgia.
The Bulldogs answered with an 8-0 run to take a 47-39 lead. Missouri would never take the lead again, but a Michael Porter 3-pointer cut Missouri’s deficit to one point with one minute left.
He would miss the next 3-pointer that would’ve given Missouri a two-point lead with 17 seconds left.
The missed shots were only one part of the story for the Tigers.
Foul trouble impacted their rhythm, as well.
Jeremiah Tilmon and Kevin Puryear fouled out. Robertson and Geist each had three fouls, and Jontay Porter had four.
“It was a huge difference,” Jontay Porter said. “That’s in no way an excuse for why we lost, but it disrupts the flow of the game for us, because we rely so heavily on our bigs.”
While Missouri’s bigs, other than Jontay Porter, struggled to get into any rhythm, Georgia’s Yante Maten didn’t have that problem.
Maten scored just nine points in the team’s first meeting in January. On Thursday, he had 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“You’ve got to give him credit. He put his team on his back,” Michael Porter said.
After Georgia fell behind 10-0, it was Maten that got the Bulldogs on the scoreboard with 14:06 on the clock. His 3-pointer was followed by a Fox timeout and a 19-2 Georgia run.
“I saw a shift on our aggressiveness on defense and our flow on offense. I knew it wasn’t going to be 40-2, but I thought we would be in control at the end of the first half. But they went on a run, and they were up like eight or 10 most of the game,” Jontay Porter said. "I was proud of us for fighting back and showing that we have heart.”
Missouri’s heart wasn’t enough to overcome its foul trouble. And Michael Porter wasn’t enough for Missouri to overcome its shooting struggles.
It will now wait until Sunday to see where it is placed in the NCAA Tournament bracket.
“The bad thing was missing shots. We missed a lot of shots we should’ve made. Jontay, besides him, nobody else was playing good offensively,” Michael Porter said. “That’s the encouraging part. We played a horrible game offensively and came up short by two points. We have a lot of things we can get better at, but we will be all right.”