By Cody Mroczka
COLUMBIA – With less than a second remaining, Missouri had a chance to stun Ole Miss and send a crucial Southeastern Conference road game into overtime.
The Tigers (16-7, 4-6 SEC) had no business trailing the Rebels (16-7, 7-3 SEC) by just three points with .9 seconds remaining, but several Ole Miss turnovers allowed Missouri a meaningful last shot attempt despite trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half.
Earnest Ross’ emergency heave from well behind the three-point line grazed the front of the rim before bouncing onto the hardwood. For a second, it looked like the Missouri guard was going to take the air out of Tad Smith Coliseum on Saturday evening.
Ross played arguably his best game of the season and kept Missouri breathing as the Rebels unleashed 50 first half points, the most by any opponent this year. He finished with a team high 24 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists.
Ole Miss, a team that doesn’t pass up many 3-point opportunities, put on an outside shooting clinic. The Rebels came into the game averaging nearly eight 3-point makes on 36 percent shooting. Those numbers will likely gain a slight boost following 14 3 pointers on 29 attempts against the Tigers.
Eight of those 3-pointers came from the Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson. Henderson put on a show, especially in the first half as he dropped 18 points on six 3s. His two second half 3-pointers came at key moments when Missouri was attempting its comeback. He finished with a game high 29 points and added five assists.
“When you make shots, there is a lot of energy in the building,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy told reporters. “We had all the momentum.”
Henderson was fun to watch, because Ole Miss had a commanding lead for a majority of the game. Kennedy can live with the behind-the-back passes and backboard alley-oop passes as long as Henderson and the Rebels are getting easy baskets and forcing turnovers on the other end. It also helps when tough shots are falling. Evidenced by Henderson connecting on a few turnarounds and fade away 3-pointers that few players would dare attempt.
Even though the Tigers delivered one of their best all-around team performances, the early first half deficit from the Rebels hot shooting was too big to overcome. Missouri guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson both finished with more than 20 points, but were quiet in the first half when the team struggled to score. Forward Ryan Rosburg played a big role in the second half, when he scored all 11 of his points.
Ultimately, it was Missouri’s poor perimeter defense that allowed too many uncontested shots to determine the outcome. The Rebels shot 50 percent from the field and had assists on 19 of their 29 baskets. Missouri’s defensive zone did little to stop Ole Miss’ perimeter players from shooting over the top of the defense all game.
Clarkson told reporters that the team’s attitude has to change if the Tigers are going to get to the postseason in March.
“We are fighting for our tournament lives,” Clarkson said. “We’ve got to come out here and change the attitude of some of our guys.”
With today’s loss, every remaining game for the Tigers is important. Another loss could potentially eliminate any at-large NCAA tournament bid dreams. Missouri is scheduled to host Arkansas on Thursday before welcoming Tennessee to Mizzou Arena on Saturday.