Missouri comeback comes up short in College Station

Tigers finish third in Big 12
Saturday, March 7, 2009 | 3:57 p.m. CST; updated 6:29 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 7, 2009
Missouri's Leo Lyons struggles to pick up a loose ball in front of Texas A&M's Chinemelu Elonu in the Tigers' loss March 7 at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas

COLUMBIA – Missouri fought furiously in the second half, but the deficit was too great to overcome.

After falling behind by as many as 26 points, the No. 15 Tigers cut the lead to six with 38 seconds remaining. But they simply ran out of time, falling 96-86 in College Station, Texas. It was the Aggies' fifth straight win.

"We dug a hole, a deep hole," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said in a radio interview after the game. "We turned the ball over and a lot of those turnovers were steals that gave them easy opportunities at the basket. That's the road for you."

For the second-straight road game, Missouri's young players were overwhelmed by the hostile atmosphere.

Against Kansas last Sunday, Missouri's freshmen scored zero points in the first half. Saturday, the freshman combined for five points in the game.

"Our young guys, in this kind of environment, you hope they're ready for it, but you never know," Anderson said. "You just could see a little nerves, a little tentativeness."

On one play in the first half, freshman guard Kim English went to the foul line with Missouri already trailing by 20. English missed both free throws. On the second shot, he rebounded his own miss and went back up for a lay-up, only to have it swatted away by Texas A&M forward Bryan Davis.

Missouri secured the loose ball and swung it around the perimeter, but Zaire Taylor's three-point attempt clanked hard off the left side of the rim. In one possession, Missouri missed four shots. It was just that type of half.

Playing for its NCAA Tournament life, Texas A&M came out playing nearly perfect basketball. The Aggies shot 62 percent in the game. All of the Aggies who appeared in the game made significant contributions, and the Texas A&M bench scored 39 points.

In the second half, Missouri played like a completely different team. It found the defensive energy and shooting accuracy that was missing early in the game. Missouri started forcing Texas A&M into turnovers. The Tigers made nine three-pointers in the second half.

"I thought the second half, we looked more like our basketball team. I thought we established things on the defensive end," Anderson said. "Our guys really fought, fought, fought and put ourselves in position."

But even with its full-court press forcing turnovers and speeding up the game, the Tigers didn't have enough time to complete the comeback. Texas A&M made all six of its free throw attempts in the final minute of the game.

Sophomore Justin Safford spurred the Missouri comeback, scoring 15 points off the bench and connecting on all four of his three-point shots. It was Safford's second straight game shooting the ball well from the perimeter.

"He brings a different dimension to our basketball team," Anderson said. "He's aggressive. He rebounds the basketball. He can guard a guard and guard a forward. When he's knocking his shots down, boy I tell you what, it puts a lot of pressure on other teams."

Senior Matt Lawrence started for the second straight game. He made four three-pointers to pass Kareem Rush for the second most made three-point baskets in Missouri history.

The loss drops Missouri into third place in the Big 12.

The Tigers will have a bye in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament and will play their first game on Thursday night in the quarterfinals.

"It can work to your advantage and disadvantage," Anderson said about receiving the first-round bye. "Sometimes, the team that's playing already they got a rhythm."

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