Five things we learned in No. 24 Mizzou basketball's 60-53 loss to Ole Miss

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

Missouri men's basketball has played an up-tempo style much of this season, where it hasn't been tough to score in the high 70s.

Points were at a premium Tuesday night against Mississippi.

Missouri trailed by double digits midway through the second half, but fought back against the Rebels to tie the game on several occasions. 

The Tigers could never roll past Ole Miss, however, as the Rebels finished the game on a 10-3 run to defeat Missouri 60-53 at Mizzou Arena. 

Missouri falls to 14-7 overall and 7-7 in the Southeastern Conference by losing its fourth game in its past five, all against competition that was unranked at the time.  

Ole Miss sweeps the season series against Missouri and keeps its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The Rebels are now 15-3 all-time against MU. 

The Tigers shot 35% from the field, but held Ole Miss to 38%. One major difference was free-throw shooting: The Rebels were 15 of 19, while Missouri fell behind at 6-for-11. 

Kobe Brown was Missouri's leading scorer for the second straight game with 12 points. Mark Smith finished with 11. 

Jeremiah Tilmon posted his seventh double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He also had four blocks. 

Ole Miss' Devontae Shuler led all scorers with 14 points. 

Missouri is slated to face Texas A&M on Saturday. The Aggies haven't played since Jan. 30 because of COVID-19 protocols. Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said the team should know more on Texas A&M's status by Wednesday morning. 

Here are five things we learned in Missouri's loss to Ole Miss:

Mississippi's Devontae Shuler, center, loses the ball between Missouri's Jeremiah Tilmon, right, and Dru Smith during the second half Tuesday at Mizzou Arena.

1. Missouri continues trending the wrong way

At times this winter, Missouri has shown signs of a veteran team with 88% of its minutes returning to Columbia from last season. 

But the Tigers haven't shown the benefits of that identity over the past month. 

Saturday's victory against South Carolina stands as Missouri's lone double-digit win over the past month, with plenty of close calls in other victories. 

The levee has given out the past two weeks, giving even more levity to something Martin said after last week's loss to Georgia: Outside of the home loss to Tennessee and the last time against Ole Miss, Missouri has only itself to blame for its losses. 

Tuesday night provided another chance to look in the mirror. 

"We weren't aggressive. We didn't set a physical tone," Martin said. "And of course, we fought back in the second half, but didn't do enough to get over the hump."

Missouri's Jeremiah Tilmon, left, blocks the shot of Mississippi's Sammy Hunter during the first half Tuesday at Mizzou Arena.

2. Tilmon's addition can't solve everything

Tilmon returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the last matchup against Ole Miss two weeks ago.

The Tigers suffered their fifth loss of the season with the 6-foot-10 center in the lineup. While he's a standout player, Ole Miss had a clear strategy with constant double teams. 

The Rebels forced Missouri to play away from its most comfortable offensive identity, and the Tigers paid for it. 

"I just felt like we couldn't execute out of the zone," Tilmon said. "I mean, we practice for stuff like that. I just feel like tonight wasn't the best night on executing out of the zone and it hurt us."

Martin said Tilmon's recent time away from the court caught up with him against the Rebels. Tilmon played for 30 minutes and had three turnovers. 

Mississippi guard Devontae Shuler (2) drives against Missouri guard Xavier Pinson (1) during the first half Tuesday at Mizzou Arena.

3. Plus-minus comparison is concerning

Xavier Pinson scored less than three minutes into the game on an impressive layup. Those proved to be his only points of the game. 

Pinson recorded a team-worst minus-15 score differential while on the floor. The Tigers' backup point guard, Drew Buggs, didn't score. However, in 10 minutes of play, the Hawaii transfer led the team in plus-minus at plus-12. 

That's a jarring 27-point swing indicative of Missouri's offensive inefficiencies.

Down the stretch, some questioned whether MU would play Buggs instead of Pinson, who finished the game 1 of 9 from the field. 

"There was some thought, but at least X is more of a scorer with the mentality to score when it's late like that," Martin said. "But there was certainly thoughts, yes."

Mississippi's Romello White, right, and KJ Buffen, center, and Missouri's Kobe Brown, left, vie for a rebound during the second half Tuesday at Mizzou Arena.

4. History repeated itself on the glass 

Two weeks ago in Oxford, Ole Miss out-rebounded the Tigers 34-19, which Martin pointed to as a reason why Missouri lost by 21 points. 

The margin wasn't as glaring in Columbia, but Missouri still fell 41-32 on the boards. 

Seven Ole Miss players had at least three rebounds, while only five Missouri players did.

Tilmon and Brown combined for 17, more than half of Missouri's total. Each Rebel accounted for less than 20% of their team's total rebounds.

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin talks to an assistant coach during the second half Tuesday at Mizzou Arena.

5. It's time for concern, not panic

No matter what happens this coming weekend, the loss probably means Missouri's streak of 11 consecutive weeks in the national rankings will end. 

Due to other factors the NCAA Tournament selection committee considers, Missouri realistically may already have a berth locked up in "The Big Dance," or only need one more victory to do so. 

Yet going into March is when teams are supposed to be hitting their stride.

Missouri has recently regressed.

It's easy to forget that Missouri has three wins over top-10 teams this season and finished its nonconference slate undefeated. 

"Everything's positive. We're just trying to fight the rest of the games this year and just finish out our season strong," Mark Smith said. "I think everyone in the locker room is on the same page."

Mississippi's Matthew Murrell, right, shoots past Missouri's Mark Smith during the first half Tuesday at Mizzou Arena.

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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