Missouri women's basketball team ends season on familiar note

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 | 11:07 p.m. CDT; updated 11:15 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Missouri women's basketball team lost 60-58 to Eastern Illinois in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament in Mizzou Arena on Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — It was everything the season had been for the Missouri women's basketball team wrapped up into one game — the Tigers' last game.

There were Morgan Eye's deep 3-pointers and consistency in the paint from Liz Smith.

There were costly turnovers — an issue the Tigers have been struggling with all season.

And there was the second half collapse.

Missouri lost to Eastern Illinois 60-58 in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena — ending the Tigers' season on a bitter and familiar note.

"Believe it or not, I did feel like we got better at the end of the season," coach Robin Pingeton said. "We’d clean stuff up, and then some other things would rise to the surface."

Missouri trailed 29-27 at halftime. Smith led the team in points with nine. Bri Kulas followed with eight after a slow start, shooting 3-for-12. Smith and Kulas also led in rebounds with six each. The Tigers turned over the ball nine times, and the Panthers capitalized with eight points off the mistakes.

"Turnovers have been our Achilles' heel all season," Pingeton said. "I’m going to go back to my same response: I think a lot of it was youth."

The Tigers emerged strong in the second half. Eight minutes in, they had earned a 47-39 lead, outscoring the Panthers 20 to 10.

Eastern Illinois' point guard Ta'Kenya Nixon kept her team alive, finishing with 27 points. She attributed the Panthers' ability to stay in the game to past experience in similar circumstances.

"When you have four seniors out there — people with experience — every possession is an important possession," Nixon said. "We knew there was plenty of time to come back."

And they did.

With 4:18 left on the clock, Sydney Crafton drove in for a layup to increase the Tigers' lead to 58-52.

Those were the last points Missouri scored.

With 10 seconds remaining and the Tigers' trailing 60-58, Pingeton called a timeout. She selected Kulas to handle the final possession. Before Kulas could shoot, she tripped and fell to the court, ending Missouri's season on a turnover.

"I don’t know if she stepped on someone’s foot," Pingeton said. "She tried to call timeout as she fell to the floor, but they didn’t feel like we had possession."

The Tigers fell to 17-15 for the season, 6-10 in Southeastern Conference play.

Kulas and Crafton led the team in points with 12 each, and Smith and Eye both followed with nine. Smith finished with eight rebounds, and Kulas grabbed seven.

Missouri turned over the ball 16 times, and the Panthers totaled 14 points off those turnovers. From 3-point range, the Tigers went 7 for 20.

"I think there are a lot of lessons to learn from as we reflect back on the season," Pingeton said. "And we will learn, and we will get better."

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