Saturday’s men’s basketball game between Missouri and Alabama was always going to be a clash of styles.
Alabama’s lightning-fast offensive tempo (third-quickest in the nation, per KenPom rankings) and Missouri’s grinding, physical, lunch-pail-and-bucket defensive style contrast as much as ice cream and ketchup. Somebody was going to give, and one of these teams was going to leave with a bad taste in its mouth.
The Crimson Tide was playing at home and coming off a massive win against previously unbeaten rival Auburn on Wednesday, so the advantage was ‘Bama’s entering the game. And try as they might in an 88-74 loss, the Tigers just couldn’t keep up with the pace.
Alabama shot a season-high 39 3-pointers and made 13 of them, using a total field goal percentage of 44.6% to notch its second straight win and give Missouri its second straight loss. But in that process, the Tide overcame an historic performance from the Tigers at the free throw line.
Missouri set a school and Southeastern Conference record for most consecutive free throws made by going 31 for 31 from the charity stripe, which is three shy of the all-time NCAA record. The previous benchmark in the SEC was Florida’s 27 consecutive free throws made in a game against Tennessee in 1994.
But while the Tigers’ performance from the foul line was stable, the rest of their offensive production was not. By going 19 for 61 from the field and just 5 for 20 from 3, Missouri’s fate was sealed by its unremarkable play with the ball in its hands.
“(We) did a great job attacking, making free throws, being aggressive, but those open looks from 3 didn’t fall,” Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin said in a postgame interview with Columbia radio station KTGR. “A painful, painful lesson. They made shots and they made plays, but again, I thought we had it right there but just couldn’t get it in the end.”
With a field goal drought of 10:45 in the first half, the free throws — not a shooting battle — were the main reason Missouri was only down 47-40 at halftime despite 11 first-half Tide 3-pointers. MU was only 8 for 24 from the field in the first 20 minutes, but a perfect 21 for 21 from the foul line slowed ‘Bama’s push to expand its lead.
As Alabama only managed to hit twice from behind the arc in the second half, the Tigers managed to come back from a double-digit deficit and cut the Tide’s lead to within one score on three separate occasions. But every time Missouri looked as if it was making a serious push for the lead, ‘Bama sunk a couple of shots to keep the Tigers at arm’s length.
That was partly due to the fact the Tide could rely on many players for buckets; all five Alabama starters scored in double figures, with guard John Petty finishing with a game-high 20 points, including 4 for 10 from 3.
Martin especially lauded the play of Tide players Kira Lewis Jr. and Herb Jones. Lewis was hampered by foul trouble and only finished with 10 points, but dished out a game-high seven assists as the ringleader of the Tide’s charge. Jones, a powerful force on the glass despite standing just 6-foot-7, finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
“They have guys that can shoot the ball, and the thing that makes Kira Lewis so good is he’s so fast,” Martin said. “(Jones) did a good job of slashing. He’s a mature guy, so he understands how to get shots for himself.”
And as bad as Missouri’s 10-minute-plus drought from the field was in the first half, it arguably wasn’t as critical to the game’s result as the shooting slump the Tigers had late in the game.
Missouri finished the second half missing 16 of its last 19 shots, with no go-to guy able to score consistently to keep the Tigers on pace with the Tide as the game drew to a close. Four Missouri players finished in double figures in scoring, led by Dru Smith with 18 points, but it wasn’t enough.
Now on a 1-4 start to SEC play, Missouri (depending on other results Saturday) could be tied for last in the conference standings entering league play’s third week.
The key to the Tigers getting SEC wins is being aware of players’ roles — both their own and their opponents’ — in future games, according to Martin. All of Alabama’s 88 points were scored in the paint, from free throws or from deep — nothing from mid-range — and Martin expressed that attention to that sort of detail was something his team lacked Saturday.
“This guy might be a driver. This guy’s a shooter. You have to understand all those things within the game,” Martin said. “But more than anything, it comes down to a personnel thing. If a guy’s a shooter (and) he can’t make shots, he has to be a driver. Then you have to do a great job of defending one-on-one.”
The Tigers return to action at home Tuesday against Texas A&M. The game is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. and be broadcast on ESPNU.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.