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Matter on Mizzou: The anatomy of a meltdown

January 28, 2019 GMT

COLUMBIA, MO. • Hopefully Missouri fans were able to spend their Sunday thinking about anything but Saturday’s basketball meltdown, maybe with a more pleasurable activity like folding laundry, cleaning the basement or watching snow melt.

If you woke up Monday still asking yourself how the Tigers blew a 14-point lead with barely two minutes to play, you’re in luck, which is in short supply these days considering all that went wrong at Mizzou Arena on Saturday.

Let’s take a closer look at the breakdowns that ruined Cuonzo Martin’s perfectly good Saturday, debunk some of the myths that came out of that game and assign some credit and blame for the Tigers’ latest loss.

Let’s start at 2 minutes and 48 seconds left in regulation, when the Tigers led LSU by two touchdowns.

Mizzou 68, LSU 54:

2:48: Mizzou successfully runs some clock and appears to have things secure … until Tremont Waters strips the ball from Kevin Puryear around the elbow, setting up a transition opportunity for LSU.

2:44: Skylar Mays begins his epic run with a layup in transition, followed by a quick LSU timeout

Mizzou 68, LSU 56

2:37: Mizzou’s Jordan Geist breaks the LSU press, slips at the 3-point arc but draws a foul. It’s a fortunate break for Mizzou. He hits one of two free throws.

Mizzou 69, LSU 56

2:14: After a missed LSU shot, MU’s Ronnie Suggs draws a foul and sinks one of two free throws. SEC Network analyst Pat Bradley says, ominously, “This one is not over.”

Mizzou 70, LSU 56

2:06: Mays uncorks a deep 3-pointer over Javon Pickett.

Mizzou 70, LSU 59

1:58: Mizzou breaks the press but once he gets into the frontcourt Pickett misfires a pass to Puryear in the paint. Puryear is credited with the turnover, but that one was on Pickett. This is the first crucial play that Cuonzo Martin lamented after the game. “Javon did a good job driving, but he should have jump-stopped and tried to hit Kevin,” he said.

1:54: Mays converts the turnover into another transition layup, draws a foul by Suggs, hits the free throw. LSU is within 10, a huge mental gap for a team in chase mode.

Mizzou 70, LSU 62

1:50: LSU applies the press and traps Geist deep in the backcourt. Darius Days pokes the ball loose from behind for a turnover, MU’s first against the press in the deciding minutes.

1:41: After an initial missed 3 by Waters, Ja’vonte Smart tracks down the ball and finds Mays — and he’s as wide open as can be on the wing and drills a 3 with Puryear getting to him late.

Mizzou 70, LSU 65

1:30: Mizzou catches a huge break. LSU traps Geist in the backcourt and nearly pries the ball loose but instead Geist draws a foul by Days, his fifth. Geist makes one of two free throws. This could have been a two- or three-point possession for LSU with a steal and basket but instead the whistle helps Mizzou pad its lead by a point — but it’s still just a two-possession game. Also, with Days fouled out, Wade goes to freshman forward Emmitt Williams, who would figure prominently in the final seconds.

Mizzou 71, LSU 65

1:19: Waters drills an open 3 with Geist in the vicinity, putting LSU within a possession.

Mizzou 71, LSU 68

0:45: Mizzou breaks the press and runs some valuable clock … but can’t get an open look. Suggs stumbles around the free throw line and turns it over.

0:38: Mizzou catches another break when Mays finally misses a 3-pointer and Geist grabs the rebound … but Jeremiah Tilmon is called for a bail-out foul under the basket. The big man was jousting with Naz Reid for the rebound and just as the ball bounced off the rim, Reid sprawled to the court. A bit of a flop? Perhaps. Reid calmly sinks both free throws. Neither team got away with much inside in the first 38 minutes. Five different LSU forwards had two or more fouls at halftime. Whistles followed just about every play that sent someone to the floor.

Mizzou 71, LSU 70

0:31: Mizzou breaks the press again and calls a timeout after crossing the timeline.

0:13: Geist gets an open look from 3 late in the shot clock behind Tilmon’s high screen, but the shot misses and goes to LSU. An offensive rebound might have clinched the game for Missouri.

0:2.2: LSU goes for the win and Waters catches Puryear on a switch along the wing. He blasts by Puryear and lofts a floater over Tilmon that doesn’t fall. But under the basket, Suggs is working to gain position for the rebound. Instead, Williams soars up his back, tumbles over him from behind and sends both players diving to the floor. Over the back on Williams, right? Nope. The foul is called on Suggs. That prompts Mizzou’s first substitution since the 4:27 mark. Suggs is out for K.J. Santos. Williams misses the first but hits the second to clinch overtime.

The SEC Network crew isn’t wild about the foul.

“Tough call on Suggs,” Mike Morgan says.

“Tough call at that stage of the game,” Bradley counters.

“When you have that much contact and a body hits the floor you’ve got to blow the whistle,” Morgan adds. “You can’t swallow the whistle.”

But was the foul on the right guy?

0:00: Geist’s heave gets blocked by Waters, sending the game into overtime.

In the extra session, Wade was tempted to stick with the press — specifically, a 1-3-1 trap — but he backed off and his Tigers made one more shot and three more free throws to complete the comeback.

A few quick thoughts on the final three minutes of regulation…

• Should Martin have subbed more? At that point, he was all but out of better options. Mark Smith’s shooting, ball-handling and rebounding would have been helpful, but he was out of the game with a sprained ankle. Xavier Pinson could have helped with the ball-handling, but he fouled out with 6:40 left. Essentially, Martin went with his most experienced players in Geist, Puryear and Tilmon, his best overall freshman in Pickett and for the final spot Suggs over Torrence Watson. Why Suggs in that spot? “He’s assertive and can get downhill,” Martin said. “Plus his ability to defend multiple guys.”

• The two late fouls on Tilmon and Suggs were questionable, at best, and undoubtedly helped LSU’s rally. “We were very, very fortunate,” Wade said. At the same rate, the officials called three fouls on LSU in the final 2:37, but Mizzou only converted 3 of 6 free throws. One more free throw changes the entire complexion.

• As usual there was a lot of postgame talk about Mizzou’s struggles against the press/trap. But the press only forced one of MU’s second-half turnovers. After a made basket, LSU pressed six times in the final 2:37 and MU got across the timeline four times. Geist turned it over once and was fouled another time. If anything the press/trap forced Mizzou to expend time and energy to get into an offensive set, but for the most part the Tigers handled the backcourt pressure. The two turnovers in the offensive zone — Pickett’s pass and Suggs’ slip — were incredibly untimely.

• The 1-3-1 zone trap LSU applied late came from deep in Wade’s bag of tricks. In LSU’s five previous SEC games the Tigers had used that defense on just six possessions, he said. Interestingly, though, he said he used it late in last year’s game against Mizzou, when the Tigers lost a close game in Baton Rouge.

“It’s tough as a coach because you want to keep pressing in overtime because that’s what got us back in it, but we had to be more conservative with the fouls,” Wade said. “We had to have a change-up (late in regulation) because they were just steamrolling us on ball screens. We couldn’t get to the ball and get to the point of attack. Geist was just maneuvering through us pretty good.”

STAT THAT MATTERS

9. That’s how many offensive rebounds Mizzou collected on its 33 missed field goals and seven missed free throws — with Geist grabbing a team-high three. One or two more offensive rebounds in a game that comes down to a couple possessions would have been significant. LSU, meanwhile, grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and outscored MU 17-12 on second-chance points. “I thought they got too many offensive rebounds,” Geist said. “A lot of it is just blocking out and long rebounds. Especially long shots. We have to be ready for the long rebounds. You can’t just run in for the ball.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Mays did his best Reggie Miller vs. the Knicks impression in those final minutes of regulation. With 7:46 left in regulation he had nine points. He finished with 24.

“Once they were settled into their defense it was hard to get open looks,” Mays said. “They’re such a great defensive team. Once we got it moving after a faster pace I was able to get open and get open looks.”

LOOKING GOOD

• The season-high home crowd of 11,513 got the Full Geist Experience. Some are going to blame the senior for missing the late shots or the turnover against the press, but where would this team be without its Big Kahuna? What did Mizzou miss most with Smith out of the game? Perimeter scoring and rebounds. Geist poured in a season-high 25 points, made 3 of his first 4 3-pointers and pulled down a game-high and career-high 11 rebounds. He routinely tricked the taller LSU Tigers out of their Nikes with his fakes and pivots in the paint. He drew three fouls by sprawling to the floor. He salvaged a possession when he chased down a missed free throw into the Mizzou bench. This Missouri team isn’t going to win with style points, and the one guy who puts the Tigers in position to beat more talented and deeper teams is the senior point guard.

“He was phenomenal,” Wade said. “He gets in there and pivots … he gets angles. He was tremendous. He was much more aggressive than we were for a vast majority of the game and it showed.”

• For all the whistles on the LSU big men, Tilmon managed to stay on the floor for a career-high 35 minutes. He scored 15 points on eight shots and turned the ball over only once. Martin played Reed Nikko and Michell Smith for just 11 minutes combined, which meant Tilmon had to hold down MU’s undermanned front line most of the game. This was just the third time in 22 games Mizzou didn’t win when Tilmon scored in double figures.

• Pinson gave the Tigers spark off the bench with eight points and two steals in 14 minutes. He was fearless driving the ball inside against LSU’s big bodies. He finished the game a team-best plus-7.

NEEDS WORK

• How does Pinson foul out in just 14 minutes and with nearly 7 minutes left in the game? His fourth was a phantom foul away from the ball, but he’s got to be more disciplined. He also turned the ball over twice without any assists.

• Maybe Puryear and Geist fired up their teammates with the early technical fouls, but they resulted in four Mays free throws. He converted three. Those were valuable points for an LSU team that struggled to score in the first half. Maybe the officials were too quick to slap the Ts — Waters was chirping to Mizzou players most of the game — but MU’s senior leaders have played enough games to know what’s going to earn a technical.

“That was bad on our part being seniors,” Geist said. “We can’t do that. That hurt us at the end of the game.”

• After making his first career start Watson didn’t get off the bench in the entire second half. He was scoreless on two shots in 17 minutes without a rebound, assist or steal. In overtime, he passed open a wide-open look from 3-point range when the Tigers absolutely needed a basket.