BUFFALO, N.Y. – Seconds before removing his black suit coat – an indicator that the needle on his frustration dial had swung into the red – Missouri coach Mike Anderson screamed at Keith Ramsey.
“Keith! … Dunk the ball!” Anderson said, violently motioning his right hand down.
Ramsey had just missed a layup, which the Missouri men’s basketball team did 14 times Sunday in its 68-59 season-ending loss to West Virginia at HSBC Arena in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 10 seed Tigers hung with the second-seeded Mountaineers, regarded as one of the nation’s top teams. The Tigers kept their deficit in single digits until the final 30 seconds. They took 16 more shots than West Virginia in the second half but made the same amount, 10.
But the Tigers had worked around poor shooting showings before. The difference Sunday, other than playing against a team with more size and talent, was that the misses weren’t open jump shots or 3-pointers.
They were layups. The simplest, highest-percentage shot in basketball. Except for dunks.
“If we would’ve dunked it, we would’ve had no problem,” said Laurence Bowers, who missed several tip-ins. “We wouldn’t have had to worry about it. But even though we did lay it up, usually, nine times out of 10, those go in. We just missed them.”
Bowers, who was playing with two broken ligaments in his left wrist, said bad timing led to his missed chances around the basket. He said he jumped and got himself in position to tip the ball in, but was coming down when he actually touched it.
“It just wasn’t our night or something because those are layups we usually make,” he said.
Ramsey said West Virginia didn’t do anything out of the ordinary that forced the misses.
“Nothing, man. It was just me,” he said. “ … It seemed like everybody was struggling, especially me. It goes like that sometimes.”
Season-ending losses are always difficult, especially for seniors. In Missouri’s locker room after the game, J.T. Tiller got a hug from graduate assistant Michael Anderson Jr. and the two swayed together for 10 seconds.
Zaire Taylor spoke with a quiver when asked what Anderson said to Missouri’s seniors – Taylor, Tiller and Ramsey – after the game.
“I don’t know if I was fully (hearing) everything,” he said.
But this defeat seemed tougher to grasp. Fourteen missed layups.
“I think it’s just more demoralizing,” Michael Dixon Jr. said about losing after all the easy chances.
Anderson said the missed layups did in the Tigers on Sunday, but he offered some perspective about Missouri’s season.
“It wasn’t the way I envisioned those guys going out, but at the same time I couldn’t be more proud of any team I have had an opportunity to coach than these guys,” he said.
Kim English might have most accurately described the Tigers’ emotions, intensified by knowing they were a few dunks away from extending their season.
“It’s like your house burning down,” he said. “You have to start over and build it again.”