COLUMBIA — “Missouri is in trouble,” ESPN announcer Joe Davis said as Georgia guard Kenny Gaines drained a long 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 17-point lead with seven minutes to play Tuesday.
Davis said it as though Gaines’ shot was the dagger, the last straw, like he wasn’t sure if the Tigers weren’t in trouble before it sunk through the net.
But Missouri had been in trouble the entire game. Georgia took a lead with eight minutes left in the first half and led by nine at halftime, and Missouri is now in serious risk of being left out of the NCAA tournament after a suffocating, possibly asphyxiating 71–56 loss to the Bulldogs in Athens, Ga.
The loss drops the Tigers to 7-8 in the Southeastern Conference, tied for ninth in the league behind a logjam of teams with .500 records and probably on the outside looking in at its former spot on the NCAA tournament bubble. The Tigers are in free fall, now having lost consecutive games to teams with unimpressive RPIs. RPI rates teams based on record and strength of schedule. Alabama, who Missouri — with an RPI of 48 — lost to on Saturday, had an RPI of 118. Georgia’s is 88.
The first time Missouri played Georgia, the Tigers faced an amped-up Bulldogs team, efficient and determined, riding on the emotion of its coach Mark Fox, who lost his father to lung disease just days before his team beat Missouri Jan. 8 in Columbia.
Missouri coach Frank Haith hoped his team would be the one filled with emotion this time, urging them to “play harder” before Tuesday's game.
And in spurts, they showed the effort.
There was Johnathan Williams III leaping through the Georgia bench and into the stands in an attempt to save a loose ball, spilling someone’s soda as he went. There was Jabari Brown bleeding from his wrist after desperately trying to block a Juwan Parker layup in transition, and there was Tony Criswell laying on his stomach and then his back, in obvious pain, after going up for Parker’s rebound and coming down hard.
But Georgia, for the second time this season, was always a step ahead. Williams III got his fingers on the ball, but it went out of bounds. Parker negated Brown and Criswell’s effort by getting fouled and hitting the free throws. And the Bulldogs repeatedly beat the Tigers down the floor on their way to easy points and a 52.1 percent shooting night.
Missouri’s offense, on the other hand, proved inept. The usually dependable three-headed monster of Jordan Clarkson, Brown and Earnest Ross combined for 38 points, with Ross mustering just four.
Clarkson and Brown together shot 31 percent from the field, and the Tigers got just four points from their bench, all from Criswell.
The Bulldogs had three players in double-figures, led by Gaines, who scored 19 points. Georgia was in control after two 3-pointers from Nemanja Djurisic finished off the first half, one beat the buzzer.
Gaines’ 3-pointer put Georgia ahead by 17, with the Bulldogs eventually leading by 20 in the second half.
Missouri shot 3-for-18 from 3-point range and committed 13 turnovers.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.