Missouri men’s basketball never quite could get over the hump Wednesday night.
Missouri trailed by 15 points against Mississippi with three minutes until halftime but closed that gap to tie the score with 14 minutes remaining in regulation.
In a critical game for Missouri’s postseason chances and Southeastern Conference Tournament seeding, the Tigers kept things close down the stretch but never held a second-half lead in a 75-67 loss at Ole Miss.
Missouri falls to 14-16 overall, 6-11 in league play and perhaps most importantly into a tie for the No. 12 seed in the conference with Ole Miss. Arkansas’ win over LSU on Wednesday leapfrogs the Razorbacks over the Tigers.
"The game is played on the floor, and we always say, ’Allow the game to be played on the floor,’ and I have to be careful when I speak, but man, it’s tough," Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I thought our guys battled and did things necessary to win the game, but some of those calls didn’t go our way.
"It’s part of the game. You have to fight it and keep moving forward."
Martin, who typically doesn’t harp in public on officiating, took exception to a pair of fouls called within a minute of each other midway through the second half against junior guard Dru Smith, both on reach-ins.
The Tigers were either tied or down by two when the calls occurred, and Martin was forced to take arguably his best defender and one of his best scorers out of the game for an extended stretch due to having four fouls.
Smith drew the primary defensive assignment of Ole Miss senior Breein Tyree, who managed just eight points through the first 28 minutes.
The Rebels duo of Tyree and Blake Hinson wound up tied for the game high in scoring with 19 points each. The Rebels had two other players reach double digits in KJ Buffen with 13 points and Khadim Sy with 12.
Only two MU players scored in double figures. Sophomore guard Xavier Pinson led the Tigers with 16 points, his sixth straight game with 15 or more. Junior center Jeremiah Tilmon scored 12 points and collected seven rebounds in 23 minutes — his most significant action since returning from an injury that held him out much of SEC play.
"He did a much better job," Martin said of Tilmon. "We’re talking about a guy who's been out for so long and not being able to get up and down the floor in game situations. It's not easy, but I thought this probably was a better game coming back and I expect him to continue to make progress as games go because of his presence around the rim. ... He’s too big and physical for those guys to guard him down there."
Tilmon recorded a plus-minus of plus-eight in the game, tying for the Missouri high alongside junior guard Mark Smith, who finished with four points in 17 minutes.
It was the second straight scoreless game for Tigers sophomore guard Javon Pickett, who did have four rebounds in 20 minutes.
Missouri allowed the Rebels 49 first-half points, the most a Kermit Davis-coached Ole Miss team has ever scored in the opening 20 minutes.
"Just didn't have any fight," Martin said of his team in the first half. "No rhythm. No toughness."
The Tigers finished 4-for-17 (23.5%) from 3-point range while shooting 22 of 60 (36.7%) from the field.
Ole Miss got only eight points from its bench, while Missouri had 31 bench points.
Missouri is scheduled to return to action for its final regular-season game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against Alabama at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers will honor their lone senior, Reed Nikko, prior to the start of the game against the Crimson Tide.