Missouri laments late mistakes in loss to Arkansas

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Saturday, January 13, 2018
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin directs his team against Arkansas Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, during the second half in Bud Walton Arena.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin directs his team against Arkansas Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, during the second half in Bud Walton Arena.

— For the second time in two weeks, a visitor walked away from Bud Walton Arena with regrets.

Arkansas jumped out to an 18-point lead over Missouri only to see the Tigers rally to take a six-point lead late in the contest.

But with the game on the line, freshman center Daniel Gafford and his teammates stepped up and the Razorbacks escaped with a 65-63 victory before 18,297 fans.

“Credit Arkansas for winning the game,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “ They set the tone early in the first half and I think they got up 18 a couple of times and made good plays, played with energy, and did a lot of really good things.

“We were stagnant, weren't as aggressive offensively and it showed. We came back and played the way we're capable of playing in the second half, but came up short.”

Arkansas (12-5, 2-3) - benefitting from some empty possessions late from Missouri (12-5, 2-2) - ended a three-game losing streak when Jordan Geist’s contested three-point shot at the buzzer came up empty.

He had hoped to get the ball to fellow Missouri senior guard Kassius Robertson, who had a game-high 26 points.

“I was praying that it went in,” Geist said. “I wish I would have gotten a better look, a wide-open look. I wish I would have got Kassius the ball, but it didn’t happen like that.”

It never entered Martin’s mind that his team had the game won despite a late lead.

“Not at all,” Martin said. “Not Mike's group. They won't quit. I didn't think that at all. Not at all. They made plays. They scratched and clawed and did what they needed to do. Any time you've got guys like that, veterans that are experienced that can make plays, battle tested, not at all.”

Missouri helped the Hogs out with a pair of illegal screens in the final 2:24 of the game before Gafford’s monster dunk with 57 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner.

“Those were big," Robertson said. "I missed a couple of block outs. Those were big. They got rebounds. There were a couple of plays where they ran that ball screen and we didn’t help over and they got a couple of and-1s and a big dunk that kind of energized them. So those were definitely mental errors.”

It came a week after Missouri had a 75-70 lead over visiting Florida only to see the Gators score the last seven points - with Chris Chiozza’s steal and buzzer-beating layup off a Geist pass winning the game.

“The first one, I threw the ball to the other team so I would say that was a problem,” Geist said. “I was just trying to take what the defense would give me this time.”

Arkansas fell behind 5-1 early, but went on a 24-5 run to take a 28-10 lead with 6:11 before intermission on Gafford’s layup.

“I think we weren’t ready for their punch,” Robertson said. “They came out and punched us quick, pressured us and we didn’t exploit that press as much as we should.

“In the first half we weren’t really knocking down shots either from the field. In the second half, we kind of exploited that press a little more and got some easy baskets and got open shots, a lot more open shots, made them work in the half court defense.”

Robertson said his team was dribbling against the press too much.

“We were taking too many dribbles instead of beating it with a pass,” he said. “But like I said, we exploited that in the second half, got a lot of easy baskets, a lot of transition baskets, some pull-up threes from that half court press they ran. We were just dribbling way too much instead of beating them with the pass.”

Martin believes his team was shocked by Arkansas’ early pressure, but finally relaxed and settled down.

“Often times you know it's hard to duplicate certain things if you don’t see it enough in practice,” Martin said. “You don't have the personnel to do certain things in practice.

“ … I thought the only thing we didn't do well offensively was take advantage of when the 5-man switched on the point guard and when the guard switched on our bigs. We didn't take advantage of that, especially from our bigs' standpoint. We've got to recognize that and we've got to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Martin liked what he saw from Gafford, who led Arkansas with 15 points.

“He's talented,” Martin said. “Any time you can control the rim like that with length and athleticism, keeping balls alive. He's a talented basketball player.”

Gafford led what turned into a 34-14 points in the paint advantage for the Razorbacks over the bigger Tigers.

“They were probably the tougher team at that point, attacking the rim,” Martin said. “Especially in the first half, I don't think we were very aggressive defensively, really protecting the paint, challenging shots, blocking out. Not at all.”

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