Preventing the open 3-pointer and avoiding defensive lapses at key times have plagued Missouri all season.
Those problems caused the Tigers to lose two straight heading into Tuesday’s game, and they continued.
Belmont used an outside offensive attack and a dominating second-half run to upset the No. 23 Tigers 71-67 at Hearnes Center.
The Tigers’ third straight loss filled the locker room with surprise and disappointment.
“It was an abysmal effort on our part,” MU coach Quin Snyder said.
Said MU guard Jimmy McKinney: “People shouldn’t come in our house and beat us in our own backyard.”
Said MU swingman Rickey Paulding: “It was more disappointing than anything. We have to bounce back. We have to get better. We have to turn it around.”
A 12-0 run midway through the second half let the Bruins take control and extended their lead to 57-47, the largest of the game. Belmont reserve guard Nick Otis, averaging 6.9 points entering the game, hit two 3-pointers in the run, including one from NBA range. He finished with 15 points.
Missouri answered with a run, and a two-handed baseline slam from forward Linas Kleiza brought the Tigers within 57-53. After forcing several questionable 3-pointers from NBA distance, McKinney moved a little closer and converted to cut the Belmont lead to 59-58 with 4:13 to play.
Jason Conley went to the free-throw line and made one of two shots, his only point of the game, to tie it at 59. The Bruins (6-3) continued to battle; guard Jese Snyder scored a layup off a missed 3-pointer, and guard Steve Drabyn made a 3 from the right wing to push the lead to 64-59.
After a Kleiza layup, Belmont’s Josh Goodwin scored his only basket, a 3-pointer off a high screen to put the Bruins up by six again. Paulding hit two 3-pointers, with two Belmont free throws in between, to bring the Belmont lead to 69-67.
Guard Josh Kroenke fouled Drabyn to send him to the free-throw line for a one-and-one with 12 seconds left. Drabyn missed the first, but Belmont forward Adam Mark corralled the rebound and gave it back to Drabyn, who led Belmont with 16 points. This time, he made his free throws and secured the win.
Mark’s offensive rebound was the most difficult for Snyder to handle.
“We have to have that ball,” he said.
Snyder continues to lament a lack of consistent effort in his players. He said he sees hard work in practice that has yet to make its way into games. Snyder could not pinpoint the reason for that, but he willingly took the blame.
“I’m not hiding behind my players; I’m their leader,” he said. “We can look at everybody in our locker room and nobody can say, ‘I did everything I can do.’ We need to look in ourselves and say, ‘What more can I do?’”
Belmont entered the game having attempted the second-most 3-pointers in the NCAA. It stayed true to form Tuesday: 35 of its 55 attempts were from the outside. The Bruins made 13 (37 percent), enough to earn Belmont its biggest win since moving from the NAIA to the NCAA’s Division I seven years ago.
“It’s very big for Belmont University and certainly for those men in (the locker room),” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “It’s been every day of their life to make this happen.”
The Tigers again struggled with turnovers, committing 15 that lead to 22 Belmont points. Missouri was unable to match Belmont’s long-range proficiency, making 7-of-26 (27 percent).
Both teams struggled from the field early, but Kleiza scored 10 consecutive points in the first half to put the Tigers up 17-14.
Belmont scored one field goal in a 5:46 stretch in the first half, and Missouri pushed out to a 31-21 lead. The Bruins found their stroke after that, as a 12-3 Belmont run in the final 2:37 cut the Missouri lead to 34-33 at halftime.
Missouri’s Travon Bryant and Arthur Johnson both committed two fouls in the first half, forcing them to the bench. Neither was able to assert himself in the second: despite matching up against smaller defenders, Bryant had only two points and Johnson 10.
Johnson was sullen after the loss and hinted at increasing his duties as a senior.
“Maybe I should put the blame partly on myself, because maybe we need somebody to step up and take over the leadership role,” he said. “Maybe I should put it on myself because I just need to lead everybody.”
Just down the hall in the Belmont locker room, the mood was radically different. The Bruins were ready to celebrate, but Byrd said it might not be the typical college students’ revelry.
“We’re a southern Baptist school; we don’t do champagne,” he said. “We’ll have pizza and Cokes on the bus, and we’ve got a seven-hour ride ahead of us.”