Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Real Problem: Tigers' Late Collapse Illustrates Their Lack of Defensive Will

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Real Problem: Tigers' Late Collapse Illustrates Their Lack of Defensive Will

Article excerpt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Whenever Missouri loses late, the refrain arises for Frank Haith to hand his marker to the nearest assistant who might draw up something other than point guard Phil Pressey hoisting a no-chance three-pointer, flicking a no-look pass to the sixth man or attempting a last-second slash across the lane.

Of course, that may not have been the play at all.

Mizzou entered its first SEC Tournament with its last five losses occurring on the road and either by a single basket or in overtime.

Make it six after Fridays 64-62 collapse against Ole Miss at Bridgestone Arena.

It is why a 23-win team cant lose without its head coach standing accused of some Haith crime and theunpredictable dervish Pressey getting tagged as a ball-hogging co-conspirator.

Yes, the Tigers can be a maddening tease.

Yes, their late-game theatrics can create the hint of a choke.

And, yes, it happened again Friday night.

But as unlikely and unpopular as the notion might be, other explanations can account for many of the losses attributed to baffling tactics and youthful lack of conscience. Perhaps its not as much what the Tigers do in the final minute as much as what they happens in the first 39. Or in Fridays case the last 16.

People talk about it coming down to the last possession of the game. Thats what they remember. But if we played better defense on the road we would be comfortable in those situations, forward Laurence Bowers had said presciently a day earlier.

Complicated by a slowed-down offense, the blueprint replayed itself as the Tigers frittered a 14-point second half lead before losing on reserve guard Derrick Millinghaus running floater with 1.1 seconds left.

The Tigers opened their tournament with 65 minutes of suffocating defense before suddenly finding it difficult to breathe themselves over the final 15.

Haith and his team will learn their destination in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. However, a team that often has talked about finding momentum at the right time still couldnt figure out how to handle late and close.

Missouri scored six points in the last 8 minutes, going 2-for-12 from the field and 1-for-3 from the line.

They were way more aggressive at driving the ball during the stretch than we were, Haith said. We didnt get to the free throw line at all in the second half. I think that was the difference in the game.

The tournaments No. 3 seed, Ole Miss tied the game three times in the final three minutes before winning with its last possession.

After holding the Rebels to 24 first-half points, Missouri allowed 40 in the second as the Tigers slowed the pace while Jabari Brown and Keion Bell played with three fouls. Ultimately their defense couldnt support a stagnated offense more committed to not losing than pressuring a confused opponent.

We have to get stops at the end to win close games like that, Pressey said. …

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