Missouri basketball has had its share of low points in an up-and-down 2013-14 season. On Saturday, the Tigers might have topped (or bottomed?) them all.
An offensively-challenged Alabama team without its third-leading scorer annihilated Missouri's defense, handing the Tigers a resume-crushing 80-73 loss inside Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Crimson Tide had lost six of their last seven games and entered the weekend 127th in the nation in RPI — far from an at-large consideration for the NCAA Tournament.
On a day that LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee all lost, the Tigers had a chance to claim sole possession of fourth place and pole-position for the last double-bye in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Now, all those teams, including Missouri (19-8, 7-7 SEC), are in a cluttered seven-way tie for that coveted spot.
Missouri had won three consecutive games, seemingly building momentum and a strong case for NCAA tourney inclusion. Forty disheartening minutes later, it is back firmly on the tournament bubble.
"I thought Alabama played with a lot more passion, a lot more toughness than we did," Missouri coach Frank Haith said after the game.
Reserve junior guard Levi Randolph, who averages eight-points-per game, torched the Tigers for a career-high 33 points as Alabama tallied its second most prolific offensive performance in conference play. He more than made up for the absence of junior forward Nick Jacobs, who missed the game for what the school is calling a "leave of absence."
The Crimson Tide (11-16, 5-9) entered Saturday ranked 262nd nationally with an average of 67.8 points per game and 257th with a 32.6 shooting percentage from 3-point range. The Tide made a season-high 10-of-21 attempts from behind the arc against the Tigers.
"We didn't defend at all," Haith said. "The leaders of our team, Jabari (Brown) and Jordan (Clarkson), those guys have got to defend. I think it really hurt us that we weren't able to do what we needed to do on that end of the court. That really was disappointing."
Add it to the list of disappointments in a disjointed season for the Tigers. Some other lowlights?
There’s the botched inbounds play with five seconds remaining in the Braggin’ Rights Game loss against Illinois. There’s the head-scratching setback to Georgia that snapped Missouri’s 26-game home-court winning streak in the SEC opener. There’s Vanderbilt making a season-high 12 three-point shots en route to beating Missouri in Nashville. There’s the barrage of Marshall Henderson 3-pointers that buried Missouri at Mississippi.
Take your pick for worst moment. They all contribute to Missouri being in such a precarious position with four regular season games remaining.
Alabama's prolific offensive showing Saturday was quite the contrast for the Crimson Tide, who scored just 47 points in their mid-January visit to Mizzou Arena.
Randolph, whose previous career-best was 20 points against North Florida in December, made 11 of 15 shots, including five of seven 3s against a Missouri defense that continually allowed him open looks.
“I just tried to focus on the game plan and do the things that (coach Anthony Grant) asked us to do," Randolph said. "Coach always tells us to be aggressive and play with confidence and to take open shots when they’re there. When a shot comes you have to be able to take it.”
Randolph dominated the Tigers for 19 points in the first half, equaling his total from the Crimson Tide’s previous five games combined. Randolph had scored less than 10 points in seven consecutive games prior to Saturday.
“We just weren’t locked in defensively," Brown said. "I feel I didn’t do a very good job defensively in the first half, so I take some of that blame and it just hurt us.
"Once he (Randolph) got going, he started knocking down 3s left and right. That’s all it takes, just a couple of shots to go in for guys and they get a lot of confidence.”
Senior guard Earnest Ross led Missouri with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting and added a team-best eight rebounds. Brown scored 23 and Clarkson added 14, though Clarkson made just four of his 15 shots and was errant on each of his three attempts from behind the 3-point line. The three backcourt players, yet again, were the only Tigers to score in double figures, as the other seven Tigers who played combined for a meager 11 points.
Sophomore center Ryan Rosburg finished with two points and one rebound. Freshman forward Johnathan Williams III fouled out and scored just two points. For Alabama, star senior guard Trevor Releford chipped in 18 and was the only other Tide player to reach double figures.
Saturday night’s loss was Missouri’s first to a team outside of the top 100 in Ratings Percentage Index — a metric ranking each of the nation's 351 Division I teams. The Tigers’ previous worst defeats had been Vanderbilt (92) and Illinois (84).
The loss dropped Missouri to 2-5 in SEC road games. Trips to Georgia and Tennessee remain in the Tigers’ final four regular season games.
With just one win against an RPI-top 50 team and no more matchups against the RPI top-50, Missouri will need to finish strong to position itself favorably for NCAA Tournament consideration.
One more notch on the lowlight list could be the Tigers' death knell.