Missouri had prepared for Belmont.
The Tigers had watched film. They had reviewed scouting reports. They had practiced hard, but despite the preparatory homework, the Tigers were a confused bunch after their disappointing 71-67 home loss to the Bruins on Tuesday night.
“Intensity level is high in practice,” senior forward Travon Bryant said.
“That’s one of the things I don’t understand, that we can beat up on ourselves, but we don’t do the same in the games. That’s kind of disappointing in itself. We have to have a reality check from here on out.”
Bryant wasn’t the only Tiger who was visibly frustrated with the Tigers’ worst home loss since a 51-46 defeat against Winthrop on Jan. 4, 2000.
“It was just mental on our part,” senior guard Rickey Paulding said. “The coaches prepared us. We watched film and did everything we needed to do to prepare for this game. I just think we let up mentally. We can’t have that. The blame is on all of us.”
Sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney also struggled for words when asked to how to correct the No. 23 Tigers’ woes.
“I don’t know what it is, to tell you the truth,” McKinney said. “I basically don’t really know what it is. It just seems like we’re not collected.”
The bottom line, as several Tigers said, is the effort from practice has not carried over into the games. Until this problem is solved, the Tigers might be in for a tough ride.
The answers might be closely related to the effort on defense. Although inconsistency plagued the Tigers at points during the season, it was a consistent problem against Belmont (6-3).
“We started playing harder when we were down,” coach Quin Snyder said. “We’ve got to play harder when we’re ahead. We’ve got to play harder when we’re tied. We’ve got to play the same way regardless of the score.
“You saw the intensity pick up when the urgency of the game (increased). That’s not the maturity we can have to be successful. We’ve got to look at ourselves and we’ve got to get better.”
Belmont shot 46 percent for the game and 48 percent in the second half. The Tigers (4-4) allowed double digit 3-pointers for the third time. Coppin State, on Dec. 2, and UNC-Greensboro, on Dec. 21, hit 11, but both lost to the Tigers.
The Tigers should look no farther than to their opponent Tuesday night for an example of the necessary effort. Belmont, which played primarily a three-guard lineup because of a lack of interior size, was outscored only 28-27 inside.
Forward Adam Mark, who is 6 feet 8 and 225 pounds, outscored Bryant and senior center Arthur Johnson 14-12. Mark grabbed eight rebounds; Johnson and Bryant combined for five. Mark also outhustled the Tigers to a loose ball with 12 seconds to play that sealed the win.
“I didn’t see that coming as far as our energy level,” Snyder said. “I think we’ve been inconsistent this year in that we’ve played one half and not played another half.
“It’s a question of our concentration of what’s important to win, not about ourselves but about our team. ‘What am I doing to help my team win?’ That’s competing as a group, and that’s something we’re not doing right now.”
The Tigers’ lone bright spot came from freshman forward Linas Kleiza. After disappointing performances against Illinois and Memphis, Kleiza made 7-of-12 shots and finished with a career-high 18 points. He also had nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Bryant said. “We just have to correct everything. It has to be a collective effort on our part to go out there and do what we have to do.”