COLUMBIA — For a moment it seemed as though Missouri was going to win its third road game of the season Saturday afternoon.
With a little over a minute left, the Missouri men’s basketball team and No. 24 Baylor were at a standstill. Both teams had failed to make a field goal in more than four minutes, and Baylor held a five-point lead. Then Missouri guard J.T. Tiller made his sixth three-point shot of the season, sparking a six-point run for the Tigers. With 47 seconds left, Missouri held a one-point lead after guard Kim English made just one of two free throws.
“We definitely felt like the game was (going) in our favor,” Tiller said in a phone interview after the game. “We just didn’t finish out the game like we were supposed to.”
However, with just six seconds left and the game tied, 62-62, the fate of the game was decided on a rebound. Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn had missed his second free-throw attempt, sending the ball flying into the air. Bears forward Quincy Acy skied over three Tigers to grab the ball, but missed his shot as the clock approached zero. But like Baylor has done all game, it swarmed the hoop and was able to tip-in the go-ahead layup to win 64-62. The Tigers stood flat footed in shock. Missouri guard Kim English then failed to get a shot off in the remaining 1.3 seconds.
“It was very sickening,” Tiller said.
Missouri (18-7, 6-4) has struggled all season long to against bigger opponents, and it was no different in Saturday afternoon’s loss to Baylor (19-5, 6-4). Despite shooting better than the Bears, the Tigers were consistently outmatched in the post by the Baylor forwards.
“It’s never easy on the road,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said in a postgame press conference on KFRU radio. “We did everything we needed to do to put ourselves in position to win this game.”
Rather than settling for 3-point shots, Missouri used a series of cuts and passes to attack the Baylor interior, something Missouri didn’t do in its loss to Texas A&M. The attack worked and, like a series of paper cuts, wore Baylor down.
“Sometimes you can settle for a lot of jump shots against a zone, but I thought we did a good job attacking,” Anderson said. “I thought we did a good job moving the basketball. Hopefully it’s a sign that this team is continuing to mature.”
However, the difference was on defense. Baylor’s big men made Missouri’s forwards seem like tiny guards on the court, and used their height to outrebound the Tigers 35-23 and get easy layups. Even without scoring, they were affecting the game. Every time a forward touched the ball Missouri collapsed to the post, leaving guards open to make easy jump shots.
The Baylor forwards were key in forcing Missouri to spend the majority of the game trying to overcome the early seven-point deficit it had in the opening minutes. The Tigers were able to cut the lead to four points several times, but fouls prevented Missouri from taking the lead. Because of Missouri’s lack of height it let Baylor shoot 12-13 from the free throw line in the first half and hold a six-point halftime lead.
“It came down to free throw line,” Anderson said. “They went to the free throw line and made 18 of them, and we made 10 out of 13.”
However, Anderson said it was important to see his seniors step up. For the second straight game, Missouri’s seniors were able to carry the team. This time Zaire Taylor led the Tigers with 15 points, eight of which came in the second half to keep the Tigers close when Baylor seemed to be pulling away.
“I’ve been coaching a long time,” Anderson said. “And if we are going to be the team, and get where we need to go, those guys (seniors) need to lead the way.”