In contrast to the glitches that define Missouri’s listless season, the Tigers started March with something different on Tuesday: an exciting ending.
Mizzou fell 14 points behind in South Carolina but stayed close enough to create rare drama in the closing minutes at Colonial Life Arena.
But the result was nothing new.
The Tigers were within a point of the lead with 1:34 left, but South Carolina did just enough to earn a 73-69 win and extend MU’s losing streak to six, the longest of Coach Cuonzo Martin.
In the penultimate game of the regular season, Mizzou fell back 10-20, 4-13 in the Southeastern Conference. Martin’s predecessor Kim Anderson, who coincidentally announced his retirement Tuesday after five years at Pittsburgh, coached half of MU’s six 20-lost teams.
The Tigers, already seeded 12th or 13th in next week’s SEC tournament, will host runner-up Georgia in Saturday’s regular-season finals.
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Javon Pickett was once again Mizzou’s top offensive threat, finishing with a career-high 23 points. Kobe Brown came out of his scoring slump with 19 points, including the Tigers’ last nine points as they struggled to keep up late.
Devin Carter and Jermaine Cousinard led South Carolina (18-11, 9-8) by 17 points each.
On Monday, South Carolina coach Frank Martin noted that Mizzou can be hard to beat in low-scoring games, which he described as “grinders.” This is how you can describe a first half that was as efficient offensively as a half-court competition. The first 20 minutes were chunky all round, with 14 combined turnovers, 19 fouls, and 12 missed layups and dunks.
The Tigers hit their first field goal only after a dunk by Trevon Brazile after the first media timeout and for the half shot just 3 of 10 layups and just 32% overall – while turning the ball nine times. Brown had little chance of getting out of his scoring slump because he lasted just seven minutes before picking up his second foul. Amari Davis, the team’s first guard off the bench, picked up three fouls at halftime, testing the depth of an already shallow roster.
South Carolina prevailed 23:15 on a 10-1 run midway through the half, propelled by a number of Cousinard’s jumpers. In the closing seconds, nine points down, Mizzou had a time-out to set up a final possession and hit the buzzer with a pickett 3-pointer, cutting USC’s halftime lead to 30-24.
At halftime, South Carolina’s prowess on the offensive glass led to 10 second-chance points compared to just two for the Tigers.
It was about two minutes into the second half for South Carolina to take their first double-digit lead and grab seven straight points for an 11-point lead.
After a quick Mizzou timeout, Brown finally broke his field goal drought and hit a 3-pointer from the corner 2:13 into the half. But after an aggressive move on the edge, he followed up with two missed free throws.
The Tigers rebounded on a 7-0 run to four points when the Gamecocks missed six straight shots from the field. Brazile gave the Tigers a rare transition opportunity when he slipped on the court but still managed to intercept a pass into the paint and fired a pass at Davis for the layup.
A few trips to the foul line reduced South Carolina’s lead to three in the closing minutes. A drive from Pickett followed by two more free throws put them a one-point deficit with 1:34 to go.
Carter responded with a three-point play for a 63-59 lead, but with a chance to get closer, the Tigers worked the ball into Brown, but he dribbled his foot down the baseline.
Brown made three straight possessions in the last minute as the Tigers caught up, but he lost five seconds and with five seconds left he turned it all around but retained the Gamecock win.