Five things we learned in No. 10 Mizzou basketball's 86-81 overtime loss to Arkansas
Missouri men's basketball faced an increasingly difficult task Saturday.
The Tigers looked to complete a rare regular-season sweep against a resilient Arkansas team while playing without perhaps their best player, Jeremiah Tilmon.
The Missouri center took a leave of absence from the team because of a death in the family, the program announced before tipoff.
Without the 6-foot-10 Tilmon, the Tigers relied more on perimeter shooting than in any other game this season. They made a season-high 13 shots from beyond the arc, but it wasn't enough to fend off the Razorbacks.
Arkansas defeated Missouri 86-81 in overtime at Mizzou Arena.
Saturday marked the sixth annual Rally For Rhyan game, and the Tigers were unable to keep an undefeated record in the event despite a 23-point effort from Xavier Pinson to lead all scorers.
Dru Smith was the only other MU player to score in double figures, finishing with 15.
No. 10 Missouri falls to 13-5 overall and 6-5 in Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas improves to 16-5 overall and 8-4 in league play.
The Tigers appeared to take the lead with under 30 seconds left in overtime on a Smith drive that initially was called goaltending on Arkansas. The officials reviewed the play and determined it was a clean block by the Razorbacks' Jalen Tate. Missouri retained the ball by virtue of the possession arrow.
Smith then tried a similar play, but couldn't cleanly pass the ball to Parker Braun and committed a turnover.
Missouri had a chance down three to send the game to double overtime, but a 3-point attempt by Pinson was contested and never reached the rim.
The Tigers were down by four with less than a minute left in regulation before close-range shots from Mitchell Smith and Braun helped send the game to overtime, alongside a Braun block on what could have been a game-winning shot for the Razorbacks.
Missouri was shorthanded for much of the final 15 minutes of the game, with Mitchell Smith fouling out and Kobe Brown playing only six minutes in the second half.
Brown was seen working with a team trainer on a lower-body injury and used the team's massage gun on his calf. Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game that Brown was cramping.
Arkansas has won six straight conference games, dating to a Jan. 16 loss to first-place Alabama.
Missouri is now 5-1 in games decided by five points or less this season, the same all-time record it holds in Rally For Rhyan games, played in honor of cancer survivor Rhyan Loos, the daughter of former Tigers assistant coach Brad Loos.
Missouri is scheduled to return to action Tuesday night with a road game against Georgia. Tipoff is slated for 5:30 p.m. on SEC Network.
Here are five things we learned in Missouri's loss to Arkansas:
1. Tilmon's unfortunate absence was evident
Of course, Tilmon has more important things to tend to outside of basketball, but the Razorbacks' strategy definitely shifted without him inside.
Arkansas consistently attacked the low post and wasn't afraid to throw lobs for alley-oops and try to make Missouri's other forwards build up fouls. The Razorbacks finished with 36 points in the paint and went a combined 15-for-22 on dunks and layups.
"Teams have to focus on him a lot," Missouri's Torrence Watson said of playing without Tilmon. "Him getting the ball in the post without Arkansas having a true big (man), that definitely took away from us. As well as his shot-blocking in the middle. With guys driving in, they're not really making as many drives because JT is right there.
"So we definitely missed him today."
As far as Tilmon's status going forward, Martin said he doesn't know whether the senior will be available for Tuesday's game against Georgia.
2. Missouri wasn't shy from beyond the arc
No Tilmon meant the heart of the Tigers' offensive strategy went away. There were less second-chance points and drives to the rim for everyone.
Instead, Missouri took its scoring prowess to the outside much of the game, before making only one triple in the final eight minutes of regulation and overtime combined.
Five players swished a 3-pointer for Missouri, with four of them hitting multiple shots from beyond the arc on the day.
"This is kind of what I thought we'd be able to shoot the ball as a team because we've got guys that can make shots," Martin said. "I just think it's the comfort, relaxing, shooting game-rep shots in practice. So not surprised with that. But it's also good shots. It's not as if we've taken off-the-dribble tough 3-point shots. We've taken shots that we practiced. So that part is good."
3. Pinson reignites offensive touch
Missouri's junior point guard has played at both extremes this season. Against TCU, he scored 36 points. In the three games after, he scored a combined 29.
Saturday was a challenging task for Pinson because his downhill abilities were tested more without Tilmon there to distract. And overall, he passed that test.
The Chicago native is still growing, and last year's home game against Arkansas sent him into a torrid scoring frenzy.
Yet Pinson couldn't find the right shot at the end of overtime to extend the game.
"It's a play we executed in practice, but it certainly wasn't the shot we were looking for," Martin said. "If you've got a clean shot, shoot it. But I don't think that was a clean look."
4. Watson ready to jump in when needed
The St. Louis native had yet to score a point in 2021. His most recent basket came Dec. 30 against Tennessee.
On Saturday, due to foul trouble and other absences, Watson played for a season-high 25 minutes and scored nine points.
He logged 15 minutes apiece in the season opener against Oral Roberts and in the aforementioned Tennessee game. He also scored nine points against ORU.
This past week, Missouri assistant coach Cornell Mann said a time would come that Watson would play a bigger role.
Watson proved Mann right against the Razorbacks.
"It felt good, but we didn't get the win, so ultimately I'm not happy," Watson said. "But definitely, just stayed ready. My teammates believed in me. My coaches believed in me. And really, just prayed to God that I stayed ready and then just kept the energy on the sideline whenever I wasn't playing.
"Happy to get out there and help the team."
5. Braun shoulders load in big-time minutes
During the offseason, Martin said Braun was the most improved player on the team.
Minutes in close games usually fall to Tilmon or Mitchell Smith, but Braun played as the Tigers' only post for most of the end of regulation and overtime.
The Overland Park, Kansas, native finished with six points, three rebounds and a block in 26 minutes of action.
"We always want Tilly out there. We know he'd want to be there tonight," Braun said. "We always have that next-man-up mentality if it's me, if it's Jordan (Wilmore), if it's Mitch, whoever it is.
"We've got to all be ready to step up and try to bring to the table what he does."
Contact Eric Blum at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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