DALLAS--The first one was a disappointing road defeat, but not a surprise.
The second one was a heartbreaking loss, in the last game in Hearnes Center history, and one Missouri fans will not soon forget.
The third was probably the worst, because it might have pushed the Tigers out of the NCAA Tournament picture.
No Missouri team had lost to the Jayhawks three times in one season since 1978-79, but the Tigers, who have underwhelmed all season, accomplished that feat when they were hammered 94-69 by Kansas on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament at the American Airlines Center.
Missouri (16-13) must wait to see if it did enough to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The pairings will be announced Sunday afternoon.
If the Tigers do not receive a bid, they will be invited to the NIT.
Finishing as the 66th best team in the country is not something Missouri was hoping for earlier this season, when it moved as high as No. 3 in the nation.
“Who would be happy with it?” guard Jason Conley said.
The Jayhawks had to be happy with how they played in the second half, when they outscored the Tigers 56-39 and turned a two-point game at halftime into a laugher. Kansas made 20-of-29 shots in the final 20 minutes and finished at 59 percent for the game. One day after setting the conference tournament record for field goal accuracy, the Tigers struggled to a 34 percent mark.
Kansas coach Bill Self said his team's performance in the second half was the best he had seen.
“We got the lead at halftime and felt pretty good then,” Self said. “I thought we played really well in the second half and that’s about the best
we’ve looked offensively the entire year.”
Kansas used a 13-0 second-half run to turn around a tight game. The run, which began after Missouri senior forward Travon Bryant committed his fourth foul with 11:32 to play, included eight points from forward Wayne Simien, who dominated the Tigers inside and finished with a career-high 31 points on 12-of-14 shooting. Unable to match Simien in the post, the Tigers grew frustrated on the offensive end.
Kansas converted on six of seven possessions before the Tigers could score again, and the Jayhawks suddenly had a 68-46 lead with 8:28 to play.
Snyder said losing Bryant was as much of a detriment that the Tigers faced all game.
“I think we came out (in the first half) and played as well as we’ve played, on both ends of the floor,” Snyder said. “When Travon went out, it really affected the game. We lost our edge defensively and Simien made every shot.”
Missouri used a quick 10-0 run to cut Kansas’ lead to 70-58 with 5:57 left, but the Jayhawks scored eight of the next 10 points and cruised to the big win.
Conley struggled to explain how the Tigers, who led 23-12 midway through the first half, could have been so completely overwhelmed by the Jayhawks (21-7) in the second.
“We came out fighting and went right at them,” Conley said. “The way we played the first half, you would have thought it would have been a long night for them.
“They just hit a lot of shots and we didn’t.”
Missouri senior center Arthur Johnson, who often matched up with Simien on both ends of the court, had another big game, scoring 26 points and adding nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end. After scoring a career-high 37 points in the regular season finale against Kansas on March 7, Johnson has dominated the Jayhawks twice in the past week, but it has not been enough.
“We played hard, we played tough, but they hit shots,” Johnson said. “I
think the biggest thing is they got a lot of layups off our turnovers and our quick shots.”
Kansas scored 15 points off Missouri turnovers, but Simien said limiting
Johnson to the points he did score was the difference.
“He still put up some numbers and got to the free throw line a lot,” Simien said. “We wanted to keep the ball out of his hands, and he did a great job tonight, but it just wasn’t enough.”
With a victory against the Jayhawks, Missouri would have secured itself an NCAA bid. With a strong showing against Kansas, the Tigers still might have made it. Kansas’ complete domination muddles the postseason picture.
Sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney was hopeful that the NCAA’s selection committee would take Missouri’s many close losses into account.
“It’s going to be difficult because you never know what those guys are
thinking,” McKinney said. “All we got to do is hope and pray that we get another opportunity to turn our season around…
“I think (we deserve it). We had a lot of losses and I’m always going to think we deserve to be in the NCAA, but it’s not my opinion (that matters). I just hope they open their eyes and see that we really deserve to be in there.”
Conley said the Tigers would perform well in the NCAA Tournament, if they receive the invitation.
“All we can do is forget about this game and hope we get a bid,” he said. “I know that if we do get in, we won’t let anybody down.”
For now, all the Tigers can do is think about a game that might send their season where they don’t want it to end: the NIT.
“This is the first game that we’ve gotten beat like that,” Snyder said. “It came at a bad time, but I’m not going to pine for my team.
“I still think we’re a good basketball team right now, but we got railroaded tonight.”