By: Nate Smith
During Tuesday night’s loss to Texas A&M, the Missouri Tigers set the NCAA record for most consecutive free throws made. After making all 31 attempts last game, the Tigers sunk their first 23 against the Aggies, to break the record that was previously held by Wake Forest. Unfortunately, that was the extent of the Tigers’ success shooting the ball. Mizzou was held to 30% from the field and 25.7% from beyond the arc, as the Tigers fell to the Aggies, 66-64.
After struggling in a loss to Alabama, Mizzou knew it would have to make shots more consistently in order to beat the Aggies. Cuonzo Martin’s team was unable to do so, despite finding open looks on a fairly regular basis. “You can always (bring up) shot selection in games when you play against good teams, they force you to do certain things, that can go both ways. But I think part of it is shots not falling…I thought we had some good looks, especially in the corners. We just felt like scouting them, we would have opportunities in the corners to make shots,” said Martin after the game. The Tigers attempted 35 threes—18 more than Texas A&M—but made only 9 of them.
To understand exactly how ineffective Missouri has been when shooting from the floor, consider this: Missouri has missed only one free throw in its last two games, but dropped both contests. The losses are part of a three-game losing streak that has dropped the Tigers to 1-5 in SEC play and 9-9 overall. Junior guard Dru Smith offered his thoughts on what he called a ”tough loss”, saying the game was “something that we gotta continue to learn from and just something that we gotta try to use to fuel us and just keep us moving.”
Missouri’s Dru Smith fields questions from the media following the loss to Texas A&M
After getting blitzed by a Texas A&M 10-2 run to start the second half, Mizzou never truly recovered. But to Missouri’s credit, each time the Aggies threatened to push the lead closer to or beyond double digits, the Tigers fought back and kept the game within reach.
With 2.1 seconds left to play and Missouri down 3, Dru Smith stepped up to the free-throw line. Smith made the first one and accidentally made the second attempt as well. He was trying to miss and therefore enable the Tigers to grab an offensive rebound and get a putback or last-second jumper to tie or win the game. Asked about this post-game, Smith, who finished with 18 points on the night, said, “that’s just how it goes sometimes, but yeah I was definitely trying to miss it.”
Following Smith’s free throws, the Tigers were still hanging on, refusing to give up. They fouled the Aggies to send them to the free-throw line, where Emanuel Miller missed the first and made the second, pushing the A&M lead back to 2. Cuonzo Martin then called his last timeout and called an absolutely perfect play. Mark Smith inbounded from the opposite end of the court. The former baseball player threw a full-court one-handed pass to 6’8” Parker Braun who made a swift touch pass to Torrence Watson. The play call was brilliant and the passing was precise, but Watson’s shot just barely missed, resulting in heartbreak at the buzzer for Missouri.
Despite the loss, Dru Smith says he wants his teammates to keep shooting, while Mark Smith expects shots to start falling soon, saying “I feel like we’re all pretty confident.” Missouri will certainly need a better shooting performance on Saturday as they head to West Virginia to take on Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers. The Tigers will hope to welcome back Kobe Brown, who was under the weather on Tuesday and did not see the floor. With or without Brown, the Tigers must prepare for an 11:00 AM non-conference road game against a team that is 9-0 at home. Improved shooting as a team and another confident approach from Mark and Dru Smith will be necessary if the Tigers want to emerge victorious in Morgantown.