LINCOLN, Neb. — What happened?
That was the prevalent question after Missouri’s 65-52 loss at Nebraska Saturday afternoon.
And it wasn’t just the game, a seemingly winnable road matchup where the Tigers scored just 11 points in the final 9-plus minutes, that had everyone asking.
It was also the fact that this team could squander a promising conference start with its third-straight double-digit loss, dropping to a three-way tie for eighth place in the Big 12 Conference .
So what, exactly, had happened?
“I can’t even tell you how we lost,” Jimmy McKinney said.
And neither could anyone else, really, though they tried: Jason Horton blamed the offense, coach Quin Snyder emphasized the defense, but ultimately it was all of the above. How do you pinpoint one problem when you’re outrebounded for the sixth-straight game, shoot below 40 percent from the field while only going to the free-throw line six times and allow a five points-per-game scorer to pour in 28 against you?
“Just execution. We haven’t executed,” Marshall Brown said.
“I mean we know what we got to do. We did it before. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”
‘It’ wasn’t specified, but suffice it to say that it’s more of a ‘they’ as in multiple things that need to be rectified.
First it was a matter of composure. Marshall Brown, who shoved a Cornhusker for what he called a jersey-grab, talked about keeping calm.
“I got mad. I got frustrated because I didn’t feel like it was a technical,” Brown said of what was officially ruled an intentional foul. “I mean you’ve just got to keep your composure, especially on the road.”
The ensuing free throws capped a 10-0 Nebraska (13-6, 3-3) run, but that was a glancing blow compared to what was to come. The lack of poise struck particularly hard in the second half, when Kalen Grimes, called for bodying Jamel White on a drive to the hoop, punched the goal standard in a display of frustration. That earned the sophomore center a technical foul, and gave Nebraska a four-point possession, part of a 9-0 run that helped turn a 33-32 Missouri (10-8, 3-4) lead into a 41-33 Cornhuskers advantage. McKinney called it the knockout.
“I thought when we came back and went up one, we was just gonna take it from there,” McKinney said of the swing. “But then the tech , man, the tech killed us for real.”
It was White, a freshman, who made the four free throws, playing significant minutes in place of the suspended Joe McCray. That’s where the faulty Tigers defense came in. White doubled his previous career-high with 28 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He missed just one free throw in 11 trips to the line, slightly worse than his 4-of-4 3-point performance.
“I don’t know how the little freshman got off, but he got off,” McKinney said. “He was feeling it a little and he was shooting the ball well.”
Said Snyder of White stepping up in McCray’s absence, “ Often times when you have a player that’s out, your team really can rally around him ... other guys get opportunities, and he was certainly ready to take advantage of that.”
Thomas Gardner shot the ball effectively, making half of his 3-point shots on the way to 22 points. But his six turnovers (Missouri turned it over 16 times) showed the lack of discipline the Tigers have struggled with on the offensive end lately. Combine that with Kevin Young’s continued struggles at finishing in the post (he had six points and fellow forward Brown had eight) and there weren’t many points to be had. Missouri was held to 50 points against Illinois, the only other time this season that they failed to score 30 or more in either half prior to Saturday.
“I think tonight we defended well,” Horton said. “ We just, offensively, made some bad decisions. And we’ve just got to get better.”
Texas is next up at Mizzou Arena on Wednesday. The way Big 12 coaches describe the No. 4 Longhorns’ reign, they are a league legend. Several of the Tigers stated the obvious, a need to play better in all facets, to contend Wednesday.
Gardner invoked the ‘it’ that plagued his Tigers Saturday.
“We do it like this (Nebraska game), it’s going to be another double-digit loss.”