Auburn roared on a 20-2 run in the second half Wednesday to all but clinch a 91-73 beatdown of Missouri.
Trailing by just two points with 12 minutes left in the game, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin saw some energy on the faces of his players.
They had just closed a nine-point deficit to two points, but Martin wasn’t necessarily happy with the reason he saw the energy.
“I saw some energy in their eyes, and I said, ‘Well, it's because the shots are falling,’” Martin said. “You have to be able to play at a high level whether the shots are falling or not. That’s the area we have to continue to grow and get better at.”
No. 19 Auburn responded out of a timeout with a 20-2 run that all but clinched a 91-73 beatdown of Missouri on Wednesday. The loss marked the Tigers' worst since losing 77-59 at Utah on Nov. 16 and the most points the Tigers have given up this season.
Martin has told his team multiple times this season that it doesn’t have enough weapons on offense to take days off on defense.
“We have to defend better,” Martin, a defensive-minded coach, reiterated later in his press conference.
Missouri, which had held every other Southeastern Conference opponent under its scoring average entering the game, allowed Auburn to shoot 44 percent from the field and top its 85 points-per-game average.
“This was a case of not taking advantage of the interior,” Martin said. “We have to find ways to get Jeremiah (Tilmon) going. He has to be productive. I think for him, it’s not the officiating. It’s about going to get better.”
For the second game in a row, Missouri (13-7, 3-4) struggled to get anything out of its post presence.
Saturday’s game against Texas A&M was expected with Tyler Davis and Robert Williams being two of the best and most experienced post players in the league.
On Wednesday, Missouri had the size advantage against Auburn. Auburn’s starting center, Anfernee McLemore, is 6-foot-7. The Tigers, who throughout the season have dominated teams with inferior post players, couldn’t get anything going.
Tilmon played just seven minutes, battling foul trouble, and did not attempt a shot. Jontay Porter finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting, Kevin Puryear had 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting and Reed Nikko had four points on 1-of-3 shooting.
“I thought we had opportunities to get it inside,” Martin said. “In Jeremiah’s case, he was in foul trouble. In Jontay’s case, that’s not really his strength, and I thought Kevin had opportunities in the first half, they just didn’t go.”
Despite the struggles in the post, Missouri through 10 minutes was in a position to continue its trend of bouncing back from SEC losses.
Led by Jordan Barnett, who finished with a game-high 21 points, the Tigers held a 15-14 lead with 10:44 remaining in the first half. Each time Missouri took a lead, Auburn (18-2, 6-1) answered. Missouri also received double-figure scoring days from Jordan Geist, who finished with 12 points, and Kassius Robertson, who finished with 21.
Auburn took the lead right back on a 3-pointer from Bryce Brown.
Brown was one of five Auburn players in double figures Wednesday. Brown finished with 16 points, as did Desean Murray. Jared Harper led the team with 21 points, six assists and zero turnovers.
After Auburn took the lead back, Missouri’s turnover struggles resurfaced. Missouri, which hadn’t committed a turnover in the first 10 minutes, imploded in front of the Auburn pressure.
The Tigers turned the ball over 10 times in the final 10 minutes of the first half. They turned the ball over 20 times in the game.
That, along with Auburn’s shot-blocking presence around the rim, gave Auburn a 49-42 lead at the break.
Before the turnovers came, it wasn’t as if Missouri was blazing hot on the offensive end, though. It struggled to score inside against Auburn’s stout shot blocking. McLemore was the main Auburn defender getting in on all the action. McLemore, who leads the country in block percentage, finished the half with five blocks. He finished the game with six.
The Tigers blocked eight of Missouri’s first-half shots. What kept Missouri in the game was the hot shooting of Barnett, Geist and its offense, once again.
Its offense got hot midway through the second half, but the Tigers could not sustain the run.
Each time Missouri needed a big basket, Auburn answered. Missouri, on the other hand, had no response when it needed it most. Auburn got what it wanted on offense, and even when it missed they capitalized, scoring 21 second-chance points.
Missouri will travel to Mississippi State on Saturday looking to bounce back in SEC play.