You had to feel for Missouri's two team leaders after this game: Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson. Both had had career days, both continued to fight, claw and battle until the last minute of overtime. Both did all they could do to ensure Missouri would live to fight another game in the NCAA Midwestern bracket.
Paulding finished the game with gaudy statistics: 36 points on an 11-20 shooting effort.
Arthur Johnson (not Arthur Bryant as he has been referred to by announcers several times this season), had 28 points, 18 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Yet, in the final analysis, two men can't do it alone...not when the Tigers dig themselves a 10-point deficit going into halftime.
It was the utter lack of production from Mizzou's other key juniors that cost Missouri the game. Travon Bryant, who had carried the team through several tough games down the stretch, finished the game with zero points, two rebounds and fouled out of the game. Ricky Clemons wasn't much better. He scored five points on a 2-15 shooting performance and was 1-10 from outside the arc.
As impressive as Missouri has been coming back several times this season with furious second half surges, they were equally perplexing in their consistent inability to play smart, tough basketball at the beginning of games.
Did this team lack heart? No, the heart and desire were clearly there.
Did this team come out ready to play on a consistent basis? No...it was a rare game when the Tigers didn't look half asleep this season when the games started.
Yesterday, it could be argued that Marquette's amazing shooting groove and confidence were fueled in large part by another unexplainably sleepy start by the Tigers.
Missouri's reliance on a zone which didn't extend itself far enough into Marquette's three-point shooting range was also mystifying. After Jackson fouled out, it was fairly clear that Marquette's best offensive strategy was from three-point range. Yet, Missouri went to a zone during the overtime period, which protected the lane, but allowed Marquette to go six for six from the outside.
Jackson's absense should have also been a signal to the Tigers to feed AJ deep in the paint and let the big man go to work EVERY time down the court during the OT period. Johnson was clearly feeling it from the field and was hitting his free throws. The Tigers didn't control the flow and tempo of the overtime period, and consequently the game slipped away from them.
Mizzou finished the season 22-11.
The Tigers appear to have all of their significant contributers back next season at this point. In addition, Missouri will add scoring threats Jason Conley, Spencer Laurie and Thomas Gardner to the squad next season. It is also hoped that superstar PF Linus Kleiza will soon announce his commitment to Missouri as well.
Much of the depth issues that the Tigers struggled with this year should be eliminated if all goes as planned. Mizzou fans should also expect to see another junior college point guard added to the roster before next season as well.