Five things we learned in No. 20 Mizzou basketball's 80-70 loss at Georgia
Missouri men's basketball looked to learn from its past mistakes Tuesday night on the road against Georgia.
Instead, history repeated itself.
The Tigers built a lead as large as 13 points early in the second half before the Bulldogs found their range offensively, shooting 5 of 6 from deep and 54.2% from the field after halftime to eliminate their deficit and surge ahead.
Georgia rode the reversal of fortunes to an 80-70 upset over No. 20 Missouri in Southeastern Conference action at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens.
Missouri lost its third straight game after being ranked No. 10 in the country last Monday. The latter two defeats came without star center Jeremiah Tilmon, who has taken a leave of absence from the team due to a death in his family.
Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin says he expects Tilmon to return to the team soon.
Missouri falls to 13-6 overall and 6-6 in league competition. The Bulldogs snapped their own two-game losing streak to improve to 13-8 overall and 6-8 in the SEC.
Missouri sophomore Kobe Brown set a career high in points with 21, of which 13 came in the first half. Xavier Pinson and Mark Smith were the other Tigers to finish the game in double figures, netting 11 points each.
Georgia had five players score in double figures, led by Justin Kier with 16.
The Tigers are scheduled to return to action Saturday at South Carolina.
Here are five things we learned in Missouri's loss to Georgia:
1. A tale of two halves ... again
Second-half collapses are becoming a pattern for Missouri.
This was the fifth time this season the Tigers have held a double-digit lead after halftime only to see their opposition trim its deficit to one point, tie the game or defeat them.
Missouri's record in those games is 3-2: wins over Illinois, Kentucky and Alabama, Tuesday's loss at Georgia and the Jan. 5 loss at Mississippi State.
The statistical comparisons between Tuesday's two halves are staggering for the Tigers.
- Missouri turned the ball over twice in the first 20 minutes of the game. In the final 10 minutes, the Tigers turned it over 10 times.
- Missouri committed five team fouls in the first half. In the second half: 17.
The 23-point, second-half downswing sends the Tigers to an even record in the SEC for the first time in a month, dating back to when they improved to 2-2 with a 16-point road victory over Texas A&M on Jan. 16.
"You've got to finish the game, stay strong," Martin said. "Now, I thought we had some stuff around the rim, just didn't capitalize. A couple key live-ball turnovers led to their 3-point shots. ... I just thought we had great energy, a great game plan, everything we were trying to do, and we couldn't maintain it for whatever reason."
2. Brown elevates his stock for Mizzou
With Tilmon out of the lineup, Martin enlisted the trio of Brown, Mitchell Smith and Parker Braun to pick up his load.
While the East St. Louis native Tilmon is irreplaceable in many facets, Brown scored his career high, besting his previous mark of 17 points set last season against Arkansas.
It was a volume night for Brown, who took the most shots on the team (15) and made double of any other Tiger with eight. Pinson, Dru Smith and Mark Smith each made four field goals.
"My teammates kept talking to me," Brown said. "They saw I had mismatches all over the floor and they wanted me to take advantage of those. They kept staying in my ear and they kept telling me 'do this, do that.' (Martin) was on me about it.
"I tried to do the best I can."
3. Martin doesn't doubt Tigers' identity
The Tigers are in a tailspin. Three straight losses to teams they could have beat.
Martin cited a lack of effort against Mississippi last Wednesday and wasn't too down about the team's overtime loss to now-No. 24 Arkansas on Saturday, though it was evident the team missed Tilmon.
A void without No. 23 was clear again against Georgia.
But the main reason for this slip-up was the Tigers' blundering offense.
"I think at Ole Miss, we didn't have the grit. I think in this game, a quick shot here and there and a couple easy misses around the rim kind of took the momentum out of you," Martin said. "Then they get their heads up, live-ball turnovers and they made plays.
"I thought we had what we needed to win the game."
Martin's confidence in the Tigers still didn't waver after the crushing loss.
"I don't think you're searching for that identity," Martin said. "We know who we are. We have to defend, rebound and play hard. That's when we're at our best.
"... Our success is as a whole. We're as good when we're all together because everybody understands their role, everybody playing together. Searching for an identity? No. This is February. We're headed into March."
4. Missouri's opponents have embraced the Tigers as a target
Outside of Tilmon, no current Tiger has significant experience playing in postseason-impacted games for Missouri.
While guys like Dru Smith, Drew Buggs and Mark Smith transferred to Columbia with experience, they didn't bring NCAA Tournament credentials with them.
But by virtue of their recent high rankings, the Tigers established themselves as a team for opposing programs to target.
Enter Georgia, which still needs more to align for a postseason berth. The Bulldogs played free with extra eyes from around the nation on Tom Crean's program.
“Coach Crean said the most desperate team was probably going to win,” said Georgia forward Toumani Camara. “We’d lost two in a row, they’d lost two in a row. We just tried to stay within ourselves, but I felt like we really connected on the court.”
5. Prime NCAA Tournament seeding has slipped away
Less than four weeks remain until Selection Sunday, and Missouri is not yet in danger of moving onto the bubble for "The Big Dance."
Even with the loss to Georgia, the Tigers should drop no lower than the No. 6-seed line.
Looking at the remaining schedule, more could hurt the Tigers' seeding than could improve their resume.
Victories against South Carolina and Texas A&M wouldn't do much to move the needle. A road game against Florida on March 3 is Missouri's best chance to improve its stock. Avenging the loss to Ole Miss would be a solid addition, too.
In the coming weeks, it will be tough sledding for Missouri to jump back into an elite slot.
But there's still time to turn things around before next month.
"We've just got to stay locked in for a full 40 minutes and be ready to play down the stretch," Braun said. "We've got a lot of experienced guys, a lot of winners, a lot of guys that are really passionate about this game. So we've got to lock in and play as one."
Contact Eric Blum at email@example.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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