Two weeks after upsetting Alabama at home, Missouri looked primed to pull off the season sweep Saturday.
Instead, for the second straight Saturday, the Tigers couldn’t protect a double-digit lead, this time losing to the Crimson Tide 86-76 at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
The Tigers, 18-point underdogs at tipoff, controlled the game’s first 35 minutes. But much like the previous Saturday’s collapse against Texas A&M, things fell apart late. The Crimson Tide (13-6, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) finished the game on an 18-3 run as the Tigers (8-10, 2-4) went cold at the wrong time, missing eight of their final nine shots from the field. Mizzou scored on just one of its final 10 possessions.
It didn’t help that Mizzou couldn’t overcome Alabama’s monstrous advantage from the foul line: The Tigers attempted a season-low five free throws to Alabama’s 29.
“I’ve never been one to complain about how the game flowed or how it’s officiated,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said after the loss. “But I told our guys I was proud of the toughness and fight. … I’m trying to be as respectful as I can when I say this, but man, five free throws. It was a physical game. Both teams played man to man in the SEC.”
Martin was especially upset with the amount of contact point guard Boogie Coleman absorbed from Alabama’s guards at the top of the key when MU tried to initiate its offensive sets.
“I felt like there was a lot of activity, a lot of action going on,” Martin said.
Coleman was less diplomatic with his assessment of the lopsided fouls. Alabama was whistled for 13 to Mizzou’s 23.
“The refs were letting them play on their end and weren’t letting us play on ours,” said Coleman, who led Mizzou with 17 points. “It was frustrating trying to play through it. But that’s how the game went. We’ve got to continue to play through it and find a way to come out on top. However the refs call it, we can’t let the refs determine our play style.”
It was only the eighth time in Martin’s five seasons at Mizzou the Tigers attempted fewer than 10 free throws.
More troubling for the Tigers: Alabama’s 23 offensive rebounds matched the most ever for a Mizzou opponent in Martin’s five seasons — and the most allowed this year by a margin of nine. With several Mizzou regulars playing in foul trouble, they watched as the Tide converted all those offensive boards allowed into 24 second-chance points, 13 coming in the second half.
“They were getting stops and kept getting the boards,” Coleman said. “It’s hard to win games if you give the other team two, three chances each possession.”
“When they got down,” Martin said, “they probably said, ‘Put your head down and get to the rim and crash the offensive glass.’ Everyone was crashing the glass. They won the battle. That’s simply it.”
It didn’t help Mizzou’s cause that springy freshman forward Trevon Brazile spent most of the second half on the bench. Martin preferred 6-foot-6 Ronnie DeGray over the 6-9 Brazile against Alabama’s perimeter-heavy lineups. Opponents have tried targeting Brazile in ball-screen actions, leaving the elite shot-blocker exposed far from the rim. In the second half, with Alabama playing mostly with five perimeter players, Brazile sat on the bench for a 17-minute stretch before hitting a 3 in the final minutes.
“I just felt like with smaller guys it’s hard when they run those screens and you get into situations (where) it leaves him extended,” Martin said. “Now he’s not the shot-blocker you need him to be because they have him extended. It had nothing to do with him. I thought he did a good job on their bigger guys. They just went with five perimeter guys and we felt like that gave us the best chance. It had nothing to do with Trev.”
A game after shooting a season-low seven 3-pointers, the Tigers perked up from deep, making a season-high 11 3s on 24 attempts. Coleman, Javon Pickett and Amari Davis each scored 12 points. Kobe Brown slogged through another rough afternoon, finishing with only six points on three-of-13 shooting. In MU’s last three losses, the All-SEC candidate has averaged just seven points and attempted only two free throws.
“When they’re switching (screens) one through five, that’s when we feel like we have the advantage, especially with Kobe,” Martin said. “Get him in the post, get him off the blocks. I’ve got to watch film to see where he was in situations, but when they’re switching on him he’s got to be assertive and aggressive and make plays. That’s the one thing I’d like to go to (late in games.)”
Once again, the Tigers’ potent offense vanished late. In their final 10 possessions, they missed six jump shots, turned the ball over twice and blew a layup.
But like they’ve done the last two games, the Tigers took control early, erupting for a 12-0 run. Alabama couldn’t shoot straight or control the ball without giving it away and by the second media timeout, the Tigers led 21-7, the biggest lead for either team all day.
Alabama finally settled down on the defensive end and stormed back with an 18-4 run but never recaptured the lead. The Tigers had a counterpunch for every momentum burst from the Tide.
Mizzou was even better coming out of the locker room, hitting its first five 3-pointers, including two from Ronnie DeGray and a fadeaway 3 in the corner by Coleman. Coleman quickly splashed another, Mizzou’s single-game high 10th this season. But Alabama stayed on the attack and finally evened the score on Jahvon Quinerly’s steal at halfcourt and transition layup, tying the Tigers 73-73 with 5:11 left.
Martin called a timeout to let the momentum subside, but the Tigers only managed a missed corner 3 from DeGray out of the break. The Tide took their first lead since the opening minutes on a put-back, then added to it with free throws. From there, Alabama never relinquished control. Jaden Shackelford paced the Tide with 21 points. He and Quinerly scored 24 of Alabama’s 50 points in the second half.
“That’s their strength,” Martin said. “They try to make plays off the dribble and they’ve got two guys who do it as good as anyone in America.”
It only gets harder from here for the Tigers, who on Tuesday host No. 2 Auburn (18-1, 7-0), fresh off its takedown of Kentucky on Saturday that could vault Bruce Pearl’s team to No. 1 in the national polls on Monday.