Post-Game Report: Mizzou falls apart in first half, loses at Liberty

Putting the ball through the basket has been a problem all season for Missouri, particularly in the first 20 minutes of games. The Tigers entered Thursday’s matchup at Liberty averaging 28.0 points per game in the first half against Division I opponents.

In the first half of the team’s first true road game of the season, the offense bottomed out.

Missouri missed its first seven field goals to open the game, and it wouldn’t get much better. The Tigers wound up making just three of 21 field goals and missing all seven three-point attempts during the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, they turned the ball over 15 times.

Liberty took advantage of the Tigers’ offensive ineptitude to jump out to an early lead that ballooned to as large as 33-7. The Tigers never really threatened to erase the deficit. Liberty ultimately won 66-45 in Missouri’s most lopsided loss to a team from outside the Power Five conferences, the Big East or the American Athletic Conference since a 24-point defeat at the hands of Creighton in 2004.

The loss, Missouri’s second of the season to a low-major conference opponent, drops the Tigers to 4-4 on the year. Here are five things we learned.

1. The half-court offense is broken. The statistics tell the story pretty well. Missouri’s 14 first-half points (which would have been 11 had a Liberty player not been whistled for a foul as Amari Davis heaved a deep three-point attempt at the halftime buzzer) marked the Tigers’ lowest output since a 2015 loss to Kansas State. The last time the Tigers scored fewer than 14 in a half: Dec. 6, 1997 against Arkansas. In all, the team’s 45 points tied for the fewest scored in a game since Cuonzo Martin arrived in Columbia. Missouri’s 14 made field goals marked its fewest under Martin.

The problems for Missouri’s offense were myriad. Martin said the team missed about eight shots at the rim during the first half. But part of that resulted from Liberty’s pack-line defense swarming the basket because the Flames didn’t have to worry about the Tigers beating them from behind the three-point line. The Tigers finished the game 3-19 from deep.

“I think once you finish (shots) at the rim or get to the free throw line, it opens things up,” Martin said. “But … you have to make some of those threes. I think there was opportunities for threes that were open. Especially the second half, I thought we had some open ones. And those have to go, because if not, it puts so much pressure on your offense as well as your defense.”

2. Pushing the pace didn’t work any better. Missouri tried to find easier scoring opportunities in transition during the first half, but that led more often to a turnover than a bucket. Several of the team’s 15 first-half turnovers came as a result of errant passes or bad ball-handling during a fast break. Martin called those turnovers “uncharacteristic.”

“Kobe (Brown) threw three passes ahead of a guy,” he said. “You feel like those are layups. That’s six points, possibly, at the rim.”

Martin spent much of the offseason saying he wanted this team to play as fast as possible, but so far, the personnel hasn’t shown an ability to consistently take advantage of transition opportunities. Missouri scored just two fast-break points during the game Thursday.

“I know a couple turnovers were a couple of lazy passes in the fast break,” Davis said. “Guys leading too much to the rim on the passes. And I’d say some of the other ones we weren’t running as hard as we could in transition.”

3. Kobe Brown needs some help. Brown admitted he didn’t play his best game Thursday, as he finished with five turnovers. But he still led the team with 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while playing a team-high 37 minutes. He was also the only Missouri player to make a field goal during the first half; the rest of the roster shot a combined 0-15.

Brown has generally risen to the challenge of transitioning from a role player to the go-to scorer in his junior season. The performance against Liberty marked the third double-double of the season for Brown and the fifth time in eight games that he has led the team in scoring. But Missouri needs more than one consistent offensive threat, and right now, it doesn’t have another one.

4. Missouri’s offense will make the headlines. But the defense also contributed to the early deficit. Liberty entered Thursday’s game as one of the most three-point happy offenses in the nation, with 48.3 percent of its field goals coming from behind the arc. Yet the Tigers allowed the Flames’ two best shooters to get open looks from deep in the game’s first two minutes.

On the first turnover of the game, Liberty leading scorer Darius McGhee drilled a shot from behind the arc. Shortly thereafter, Keegan McDowell, a 50-percent three-point shooter on the season, received a ball screen from a teammate. Missouri’s lone senior, Javon Pickett, ducked behind the screener. McDowell made him pay by knocking down the open jumper. Martin said the two early threes gave Liberty momentum that it never relinquished.

“McGhee made one, and then McDowell made one in the corner on a play that you walk through in film, your scouting report,” Martin said. “Javon tried to go over the top instead of staying on his numbers. So that’s six points right there, on guys that you know can shoot three-point shots.”

Missouri never figured out a way to contain McGhee. The senior, who came into the game averaging 18.3 points per contest, scored 20 on 7-18 shooting, including 5-13 from deep. Brown said Missouri knew from its scouting report that it couldn’t give McGhee any daylight from beyond the arc, but the defense simply didn’t execute, particularly in the first half.

“As far as scouting report goes, just stay as close as we can to him,” Brown said. “We know he can shoot from deep, off the dribble, off the catch, just have to be there. There’s not a bad shot for him. That’s really the scouting report, just try to stay with him as much as we could.

5. This didn’t look like a fluke. Not only did Thursday’s loss mark the second time Missouri has lost to a low-major opponent this season, the Tigers looked from the opening tip like the less athletic, less skilled and overall worse team.

It’s also worth noting that this doesn’t appear to be one of those sneaky-good Liberty teams of years past. The Flames lost early-season matchups against both Iona and Manhattan, as well as a 16-point defeat at the hands of LSU. Their best win of the season prior to dismantling Missouri came against Maryland Eastern Shore, which KenPom ranks No. 346 nationally.

Star of the Game: ESPN-plus commentators Matt Warner and Paul Nazigian did their best to invent storylines and inject some drama into the game despite the fact that Liberty led by 15-plus points for nearly 28 minutes. Sure, some of the talk about effort and fight might have been a little over the top, but the guys didn’t have a whole lot to work with.

Room for Improvement: Putting the ball through the basket. Starting 3-21 from the field against an opponent from the Atlantic Sun should never happen. Missouri is now shooting 39.9 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from three-point range on the year. Since the departure of Norm Stewart following the 1999-2000 campaign, the Tigers have never finished a season with a worse three-point shooting percentage and have shot worse from the field only once, when Kim Anderson’s team finished 8-24 in 2016-17.

What it means: Not only are there no guaranteed wins left on Missouri’s schedule, the Tigers might only be favored in one more game this season, when Eastern Illinois comes to Mizzou Arena on Tuesday. After that, Missouri plays 18 straight games against high-major competition. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to envision this team winning double-digit games on the year, and if that becomes the reality, well, let’s just say seats will be warm, at a minimum.

Next up: Missouri will return to Mizzou Arena to host Eastern Illinois on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Quotable: “Offensively, we just felt, as a staff, thought we missed about eight at the rim, layups in and around the rim. Kobe had tips, Javon had tips, and when those shots aren’t falling, you put pressure on your defense, and then you come down and shoot quick shots. And just, some of those turnovers in the first half were uncharacteristic. Had 15 turnovers. Even Kobe had five of them. I thought two or three of them just didn’t make sense.” — Cuonzo Martin


You might like

About the Author: nbanews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.