Tigers tormented by same ol’, same ol’ in disappointing defeat

While Wes Clark's missed free throws ultimately cost the Tigers the game, coach Kim Anderson emphasized that the sophomore was not responsible for the Tigers' loss, instead pointing to team-wide struggles.

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Arkansas’ vaunted pressure defense didn’t break Missouri on Saturday afternoon. Neither did the Razorbacks’ high-octane offense overwhelm the Tigers.

Rather, more of the same ol’, same ol’ proved to be the Tigers’ undoing in a 61-60 loss — their fifth straight — which allowed former Missouri coach Mike Anderson to leave with his first victory at Mizzou Arena since departing three seasons ago.

The Tigers just didn’t shoot quite well enough. Again.

And this was against a team that had allowed the opposition to shoot 50.7 percent over its past five games and came in tied for last in the SEC in opponents’ field-goal percentage (44.5). The Tigers managed to make only 39.7 percent of their shots, which is lower even than their 41.5 percentage for the season.

The two most glaring misses were not from the field but from the free-throw line. With 3.3 seconds left and the Tigers down by one, sophomore guard Wes Clark had a chance to be the hero but, following an Arkansas timeout, both of his attempts rolled off the rim. The gritty sophomore walked off the court, his face buried in his jersey, while teammates consoled him.

"We were very, very fortunate. If Wes shot those free throws nine other times, he’d make ’em, but this afternoon, it shined on the Razorbacks," said Arkansas’ Anderson, who downplayed the significance of winning on his old home floor.

Clark had kept the Tigers (7-12, 1-5) close with six consecutive Missouri points down the stretch and the 6-foot guard was also largely responsible for shutting down Arkansas’ 6-6 Michael Qualls. Coming off a career-best 30-point game in an overtime win over Alabama on Thursday night, Qualls made only three of 15 shots and finished with just eight points.

"Wes Clark did not lose the game. All of you can write that down," Tigers coach Kim Anderson said. "Without him that situation probably wouldn’t have occurred. (But) that’s hard for young guys, especially the way we’ve struggled."

With a minute to go and the Tigers down one, Clark had another chance to put Missouri on top but he didn’t get the roll on a jump shot and D’Angelo Allen’s point-blank putback went awry. At the other end, Allen, however, blocked a shot and pulled down a rebound to give Missouri its final chance.

While Clark’s misses will make for a miserable memory for the Tigers, they did far more right than wrong. Freshman guard Montaque Gill-Caesar had not scored in five straight games and wasn’t expected to play in this one after spraining his left ankle in practice on Friday. But cleared to go a half hour before tip, Gill-Caesar came out and made six of nine shots — including a pair of 3-pointers in crunch time — to lead Missouri with 16 points. Johnathan Williams III ended a scoring slump with 15 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double.

Just as impressively, the Tigers finished with a season-low eight turnovers against a team that has forced 16.3 per game, the most in the SEC.

"We handled it really well. We went out there with confidence. We went out there, calm, cool and collected," Gill-Caesar said. "We handled it really well."

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The Tigers also turned up their defense and held Arkansas’ leading scorer, Bobby Portis, to six-of-16 shooting and 12 points. Portis and Qualls, the conference’s top-scoring duo, finished 14.5 points under their combined average of 34.7 and, as a team, Arkansas finished 22.5 under its SEC-leading average.

"What was good was I saw this team rally and I saw this team fight for each other," Kim Anderson said. "There’s some real disappointment in the locker room. We fought this for 40 minutes and had the opportunity. We just couldn’t get it done."

Yes, Anderson knows that sounds familiar. As familiar as the errant shooting that led to another loss.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.