Missouri manhandled by Auburn, loses second-straight for first time all year
Walking back on defense after having just thrown the ball directly out of bounds, Jontay Porter peered up at the student section as if it were going to provide answers.
No. 19 Auburn (18-2, 6-1 SEC) took it to the black and gold Tigers (13-7, 3-4) at Mizzou Arena, winning 91-73. For the first time in this 2017-18 season, Missouri lost back-to-back games.
“We just completely lost control,” said senior forward Jordan Barnett. “It just all fell apart.”
A head coach for 10 years, Cuonzo Martin was going for his 200th career win on this night. He’ll have to wait until 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at Mississippi State for another attempt to achieve that milestone.
“We didn’t play well. We didn’t defend,” Martin said. “They just outplayed us and out-toughed us.”
Needing something — anything — offensively early on in the second half, especially with freshman forward Jeremiah Tilmon once again sidelined with foul trouble, Barnett provided a spark as he often has for Missouri.
With 15 minutes and 42 seconds remaining, Barnett, who finished with 19 points, ignited an 8-0 run. Not only did he assist on a left-handed layup made by junior forward Kevin Puryear, but Barnett also drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing on the team’s next possession.
Then, senior guard Kassius Robertson, who finished with a team-high 21 points, knocked down another from the perimeter. The 3-pointer cut Auburn’s lead to 49-48, but that was the peak for Missouri on this night.
“We just got to learn how to stay with it,” Barnett said. “We can’t let one mistake turn into two mistakes and three. We’ve got to stay with it.”
Thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers made by Auburn sophomore guard Jared Harper — the first, a bank shot Harper said he called — Auburn blitzed Missouri for a 15-0 run.
Missouri committed a number of turnovers over this stretch, including the aforementioned one by the freshman forward Porter. An achilles heel for the team all year, the black and gold Tigers committed 20 total.
“I know I had a couple of them,” Barnett said. “I’ve just got to be smarter with the ball.”
At the end of the first half, Missouri trailed Auburn 41-36. The half, which stalled at its open with Missouri taking two minutes and 52 seconds to score its first basket, could be defined by one possession.
With three minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the first half, Barnett lobbed the ball in bounds. The pass flew over the head of senior guard Robertson, and Auburn’s Harper corralled it. Missouri junior guard Cullen VanLeer chased Harper down and forced a missed shot. Upon receiving the rebound, VanLeer shuffled his feet and was called for a travel.
Simply put: Both teams struggled from the get-go, including the freshman forward Porter, who scored five points and committed three turnovers.
“We have to defend better,” Martin said, “and I don’t think we defended well out of the gates. I said it to our guys, when the lead was 52-50, it was because the shots were falling. You have to be able to play at a high level whether or not the shots were falling.”
Tilmon did not take a shot on this night. He played seven minutes, grabbed one rebound, turned the ball over three times and committed four fouls.
Missouri needs its biggest man to play.
“For him, it’s about understanding it’s not the officiating,” Martin said, referencing the fouls. “It’s about him growing and getting better.”
Martin’s message for the team is the exact same.
This is his first year coaching at Missouri. His first year coaching these guys.
Adversity has truly hit, and he believes there’s only one way to respond.
“It’s a process. You’re going to go through some things,” Martin said. “It’s just part of growing, but you’ve got to (continue to) fight.”