An audible gasp echoed across Mizzou Arena when Travis Anderson’s off dribble 3-pointer swished through the net. It was the third consecutive triple from Charleston Southern (3-5), this one putting Missouri down six with under a minute to play.
This wasn’t how a routine home game against Charleston Southern, the 327th ranked team on KenPom, was supposed to go.
But to the dismay of a stunned Missouri crowd, Charleston Southern shocked the Tigers, outscoring them by 13 in the second half en route to a 68-60 win Tuesday at Mizzou Arena to give Cuonzo Martin’s team its third straight loss, one that Martin called “one of the toughest” of his career.
“We were a step slow and we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Martin said.
“I can say that our energy was off, a little bad,” Missouri center Jeremiah Tilmon said.
Missouri (4-4) was sunk by the same things that has plagued it all season.
Tilmon again picked up two early fouls and scored zero first half points, Missouri’s supposed best player giving it nothing to start yet another game.
After being benched in favor of Reed Nikko to start the second half, Tilmon responded, dominating the start of the second with his own 8-0 run and finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds. Too little, too late.
“We need that out the gates from him,” Martin said. When Missouri got Tilmon rolling and opened up a nine-point second half lead, it seemed like the Tigers would survive. But the Buccaneers responded by holding the Tigers without a bucket for almost three minutes, going on a 10-0 run of their own to retake the lead, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I felt it with 10 minutes to go in the second half, it just didn’t feel right, didn’t have the right flow, the right momentum,” Martin said. “It was like we were just chugging along. They did enough to win the game.”
Despite Martin inserting Xavier Pinson into the starting five in place of the offensively-challenged Javon Pickett, the Tigers got off to another slow start on offense. Tilmon mentioned the Tigers emphasized starting better after two bad starts in Kansas City. It didn’t change against Charleston Southern, though, as Missouri went the first four minutes without a made field goal and fell behind by nine after just five minutes.
The Pinson-Smith backcourt combined for eight points on 2-of-8 shooting, and Dru Smith fouled out with over eight minutes to play.
Continuing the theme of the season, Missouri struggled again from 3-point range. Torrence Watson and Smith clanked their first seven from deep and finished a combined 1-14 from behind the arc. Missouri barely recovered, ending the game a miserable 4-for-26 from long distance, and providing more evidence that its 327th ranking in 3-point percentage might be much closer to reality than previously thought.
“I thought we settled in the first half for 3s. Then I thought a couple guys were hesitant in the second half,” Martin said. “That’s their game plan, see how many 3s they can make, let’s try to stop Tilmon from scoring the ball. If they don’t go, all the sudden now you’re hesitant to shoot the ball. It changed the game.”
If the Tigers are going to continue to shoot this abysmally from deep it puts an incredible amount of pressure on their defense, especially if they continue to not take care of the ball.
Missouri coughed the ball up 16 times against a defense that came in allowing 78.6 points per game. The Buccaneers took advantage, converting those turnovers into 19 points.
The slow start wasn’t supposed to matter against the lowly Buccaneers, who have been blown out by every high-major team they have faced this season, as well as a 44-point loss to Furman. Missouri even led 28-23 at halftime, fueled by a 10-point half from an unlikely source: backup center Mitchell Smith.
But starting so poorly on offense and allowing teams to hang around shrinks the margin for error.
With Missouri going through frequent scoring droughts, all it takes is three untimely 3s to produce a shocking upset. Charleston Southern entered the game shooting 21% from behind the arc, the second worst mark in the country. The Buccaneers caught fire in the second half, making 72% of their long range attempts. Sophomore Duncan Lexander, who was 0-14 from 3-point distance to start the season, made 5-of-8 3s for a team-high 17 points.
The hot shooting could be spun as an unlucky break but none of that should matter against a Big South school in Charleston Southern.
Missouri dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Buccaneers by 17. But the Tigers couldn’t take advantage, only scoring one more second chance point than the Buccaneers.
Tilmon said the mood in the locker room post game was positive, with team leaders making sure Missouri quickly moved on to the next game.
After Tuesday’s shocking loss, Missouri better move on fast. A tough road game against Temple, the 31st ranked defense in the nation, awaits.
A win could help rebuild lost momentum but if the Tigers drop their fourth straight, their postseason hopes could be all but over before SEC play even begins.