The Tigers’ rough stretch just got longer. The MU men’s basketball team fell to 6-6 with its 82-68 loss Monday night at Hearnes Center to defending national champion Syracuse.
The two teams played evenly in the first half, and MU went to the locker room down just six points to the No. 19 Orangemen.
But the second half was a different story, and the Tigers trailed until the final buzzer.
Next up for MU: No. 7 Oklahoma on Saturday.
For more than 23 minutes, Missouri matched the shooting, intensity and energy of defending national champion Syracuse.
Then it all fell apart, and the Orangemen dominated to defeat the Tigers 82-68 on Monday at Hearnes Center.
“We’re beating ourselves,” MU sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney said. “It was mental breakdowns, things that we didn’t want to happen, but it happened.”
Junior center Craig Forth, who entered the game averaging 4.1 points, scored a career-high 18 points, and junior forward Hakim Warrick scored 21 and grabbed 12 rebounds.
They helped the Orangemen outscore the Tigers 39-22 in the final 16:29.
With Rickey Paulding’s driving layup, the Tigers were within 43-40, but they could not sustain their pressure. During the next 5:35, the Orangemen went on a 16-2 run. It was punctuated with an alley-oop from junior guard Josh Pace to Warrick.
The run grew because of poor play from the Tigers (6-6), though. They hit 1-of-5 shots and turned the ball over four times. In addition, they allowed No. 17 Syracuse (12-1) to have multiple shots on a possession four times.
“Collectively, we had letdowns, and good teams expose those letdowns when you have them,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said.
The Orangemen, who had a lead of 63-46, held the Tigers without a field goal for five minutes as well. The decisive span also included a technical foul on McKinney for shoving Forth after the whistle.
Once the lead reached the 17-point spread, the Tigers attempted to rally. With 7:52 left, the Tigers scored on their next eight possessions.
Despite missing his four previous free throws, Arthur Johnson hit two, then freshman forward Linas Kleiza made 1-of-2. McKinney scored, then hit a 3-pointer. Travon Bryant dunked after a pass from Kleiza. McKinney made two free throws as did Paulding after that.
During the Tigers 15-point spree, the Orangemen’s lead never came in danger as they answered every time. When the Tigers drew within 65-54, sophomore guard Billy Edelin hit a running layup as the shot clock expired. After McKinney made it 67-57 with a 3-pointer from the right wing, Forth, cutting to the basket, took a feed from Warrick and made an easy layup with 4:40 left.
“Syracuse is a tough team, and when you don’t stop them, it’s tough to get anything going,” Snyder said. “Defensively, we just had breakdown after breakdown in situations, mental breakdowns.
“Then when the ball’s up, you have to go get loose balls, and they beat us to loose balls.”
The Orangemen grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.
Bryant said the Tigers planned to stop the Orangemen’s penetration and limit sophomore guard Gerry McNamara’s 3-point attempts, but it was not executed properly and allowed too many easy baskets.
“Guys got in the lane at will,” Bryant said. “Edelin, Pace, McNamara got in there and they made plays.”
When the Orangemen weren’t getting easy layups, they took advantage of 16 second-half fouls on the Tigers. Although Syracuse entered the game with 63 percent free throw percentage, it made 24-of-30 attempts, including 13-of-16 in the final 3:25.
The Orangemen got balanced first half scoring to build a 38-32 at half. Forth, who scored 11 against the Tigers last season, and Warrick had 10 points apiece, and McNamara and Pace scored nine.
After the Tigers had tied the score at 32 with 2:04 left, the Orangemen scored on their final three possessions of the half. Warrick made a hook shot from the lane, and Pace drove to the basket for the other two hoops. The score was tied eight times in the half.
McNamara found the shooting touch from 3-point range early. He scored the Orangemen’s first six points with two 3-pointers, the first from the left wing and the second from the left corner. McNamara made a third 3-pointer midway through the half on a fast break to tie the score at 19.
While McNamara made 3-of-4 3-pointers, the Tigers were not nearly as accurate, making 3-of-13.
The Tigers had their biggest lead of the half, four points, on three occasions. They went in the lead 28-24 with 5:34 left after Paulding drove from the left wing then made a reverse layup.
Paulding, who made one of the 3-pointers, led the team with seven points. He made 3-of-8 shots. Paulding finished with a game-high 25 points.
“There were stretches, but stretches don’t get it done,” Snyder said.