BOULDER, Colo. — The altitude in Boulder hasn’t bothered the Missouri basketball team in recent years, but Wednesday night, something about the Coors Events Center atmosphere devastated the Tigers.
Everything the Tigers had been doing correctly in their previous four games disappeared as the Buffaloes stampeded to an 83-70 win in a Big 12 Conference game.
“I don’t think the altitude’s ever bothered us up here, but we looked like we were fatigued at times and were having trouble staying in front of the ball,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said.
The environment wasn’t the only thing bothering the Tigers, who fell to 8-8, 3-3.
Colorado’s big men did enough of that in the post, spoiling the Tigers’ offense.
The Buffaloes’ 7-foot center David Harrison and 6-foot-7 forward Lamar Harris wreaked havoc on Missouri’s drives. Harrison added a game-high 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals to his 22 points. Harris, the Big 12 Player of the Week, finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and one steal.
“Their size bothered us,” Snyder said. “We’ve had success throwing the ball inside, and even when we got it in, I didn’t think our big guys were comfortable taking it up.”
When Missouri center Arthur Johnson committed his fifth foul, a weary reach-in with 2:47 left, it summed up the Tigers’ defensive struggles.
“We weren’t as good as we’ve been defensively,’’ Snyder said. “That’s really where it started for us. We looked a little leg weary. We were trying to substitute at times.”
Harris made both foul shots, extending the Buffaloes’ lead to 75-60. Colorado didn’t need another field goal to hold on to its lead.
Paulding nailed a 3-pointer, only the Tigers’ fourth 3 in 20 second-half attempts, with 45 seconds left to cut the Buffaloes lead to 80-70, but it wasn’t enough to give the Tigers’ hope.
Instead of drilling the ball inside, the Tigers started the second half forcing off-balance shots from outside. After hitting seven 3s in the first half, the Tigers’ shooting streak fizzled. They made only 28-of-70 field goals.
Every shot the Tigers missed, the Buffaloes (11-6, 3-3) cleaned up the rebounds and let their offense take over. The Buffaloes outrebounded the Tigers 41-30, a stunning statistic for the Tigers, who own a rebounding margin of seven more rebounds per game than their opponents.
“We were a half-step late on a lot of plays, and Colorado took advantage of it,” Snyder said. “Colorado played as good of a game as they have all season, but we can’t use it as an excuse. We just got outplayed tonight.”
Harrison and Michel Morandais drove an 18-3 Buffaloes’ run early in the second period that sealed the game.
By the time Tigers center Arthur Johnson finally started throwing his weight around inside, it was too late.
With his team down 56-48, Johnson drove to the basket for a layup with 9:26 left. Johnson scored 12 straight points for the Tigers, but fouled out with 2:47 left.
“As the game wore on, and AJ relaxed, we started getting some stuff inside, but it was too little too late,” Snyder said. “They had already extended it to double-digits when he started doing that, and we couldn’t take advantage of that by getting stops.”
Johnson scored 16 of his 19 in the second half.
Morandais scored 28 and nearly caught his career-high 33 points he set against Missouri on Feb. 23, 2002.
Things got worse before they got better for the Tigers.
Paulding was smacked with a technical foul after he questioned an official on an out-of-bounds call against the Tigers. Morandais made both free throws, stretching the lead to 52-37.
With 52 seconds left, freshman Linas Kleiza dislocated his right shoulder coming down over Harrison while clawing for a rebound. Kleiza left the game holding his arm against his chest.
“We had a lot of changes from last year, but we expected our team to look a lot better than it has,” Snyder said. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted tonight, but it’s not a setback. We still feel like we are getting better from last year.”
The Tigers’ usual suspect, perimeter defense, faltered early while the Buffaloes blazed from outside. Morandais and Blair Wilson sank two 3-pointers each in the Buffaloes’ 11-0 first-half run to build a 21-12 lead.
Tigers freshman Thomas Gardner, who was almost absent in the second half, drilled three-straight 3-pointers to tie the game at 23. Travon Bryant kept the Tigers in the first half with two 3s, but too many defensive letdowns gave the Buffaloes a 34-30 halftime edge.
Snyder said his team didn’t have the energy to put together its first string of back-to-back wins since opening 3-0.