Coach Kim Anderson’s squad struggled early, fought back to give themselves a chance in the second half but ultimately came up short.
The Tigers’ failed comeback this time resulted in a 82-72 Southeastern Conference loss to the Gators in front of 7,013 fans at Mizzou Arena and closed the book on the 2015-16 season.
“It’s kind of been a story of ours all year,” Anderson said. “We spot the other team 15, 20, 25 points and then we try to come back. We did that last week against LSU. We gave them 22 and we got back to three. Tonight we gave Florida 18 and got back to seven. Obviously that’s something we’ll have to work on in the future.”
That future is up in the air for Anderson, who said he will meet soon with Missouri athletics director Mack Rhodes to discuss the direction of the program after his second straight losing season.
Saturday’s loss was the fifth consecutive for Missouri (10-21, 3-15) and was the Tigers’ 14th defeat in their final 16 games. Sophomore guard Namon Wright led Mizzou with 19 points. Senior forward Ryan Rosburg and freshman forward Kevin Puryear added 11 apiece and freshman point guard Terrence Phillips had 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Both teams went into Saturday’s regular-season finale with four-game losing streaks but the Florida Gators (18-13, 9-9) were able to snap theirs with a strong start and good performances from the duo of senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (20 points, seven rebounds) and sophomore guard Chris Chiozza (17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds).
“It’s been a long couple weeks for us,” first-year Florida coach Mike White said. “It’s been tough three or four weeks total. It feels good to get a win on the road and to play, I don’t want to take anything away from Missouri, but I thought we played a really good first 20 minutes. We never could find a defensive rhythm in the second half and I credit Missouri for just continuing to attack, especially in transition, on the offensive glass. They continued to fight.”
Florida led 21-6 after eight minutes and built an 18-point lead, 46-28, at halftime behind 14 points from Finney-Smith.
“I think they were just playing more aggressive than us, wanted it more,” said Rosburg, who was honored in a pre-game ceremony for Senior Night. “They had a bunch of offensive rebounds, loose balls. We had a couple not-good turnovers, just little things here and there, but they were just playing better than us.”
Wright scored 10 points in the first half, but the Tigers shot 35.5 percent from the field (11-31), 36.4 percent from 3-point range (4-11) and 50 percent from the free throw line (2-4) in the opening 20 minutes.
“They just came out hard, they came out aggressive, especially defensively,” Phillips said. “They hit some early shots, they had some early offensive rebounds and they really just came out more aggressive than us in the first half.”
The Gators led by as many as 21 points in the second half, but Missouri was able to cut the deficit to seven points with 1:03 remaining after a jumper from Rosburg.
Florida then answered with five straight points, all from the free throw line, to push the lead out of reach. In the end, the Tigers’ slow start proved to be too much to overcome once again.
“Obviously it’s a little frustrating,” Phillips said, “but we’re never going to quit playing, I’m never going to quit playing for Coach A, I’m always going to play hard for Coach A and that’s just who we are. We’re always going to play hard.”