The Tigers had their third-best shooting performance of the season, from the field and 3-point range, which helped them battle down to the final seconds. But then missed free throws and poor play over the final minutes cost them their ever-so-elusive first Southeastern Conference victory.
“We’re a team that has very little margin for error,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “Every possession is important for us. When we don’t execute, don’t make free throws, don’t get to our defensive assignment on time, we make dumb fouls. … We’re just not good enough to overcome all of that.”
Missouri, despite a career-high 26 points from sophomore forward Kevin Puryear, fell to 5-13 overall and 0-6 in SEC play with their 10th straight loss.
After chipping Mississippi’s lead to just four with 48 seconds left, Missouri had three pretty good 3-point looks in one possession, but missed each one of them.
Ole Miss split a pair of free throws on the other end and Cullen VanLeer drilled a 3-pointer with an and-one opportunity to breathe life back into the Tigers. But VanLeer missed the following free throw, Ole Miss corralled the rebound and sealed the win.
Missouri fans saw their team shoot very well (44 percent) from the field, their third-best performance this season. The Tigers made 11 of 25 3-point attempts, including nine in the second half, which was also their third-best mark of the season.
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Puryear, a sophomore forward, led the charge with a career-high 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting. Puryear made all four of his 3-point attempts and grabbed eight boards.
“This gives me momentum going into further games,” Puryear said. “How I’ve been performing these last couple of games, it’s been really frustrating. Our whole coaching staff is just doing a great job of trying to keep me calm, playing the next play, staying confident.”
Shooting from the field has been the main culprit for Missouri’s struggles this season. But against the Rebels, missed free throws took blame.
The Tigers made just six for 17 from the line on the day — the 35.3 percent success rate was their worst, by 20 percent, in any game this season — and just three of 10 in the second half.
When one thing goes right, another goes wrong for the Tigers, a saying that effectively encapsulates Mizzou’s season to this point.
Missouri played from behind for 90 percent of the game, a position that has felt all too familiar for the Tigers. Mizzou never led in its last two contests against Alabama and Arkansas.
The Tigers posted an encouraging performance in comparison to their last couple of teams, but it came against an Ole Miss team that came in without one starter due to injury, its leading scorer coming back from an ankle injury and a 1-3 record in its four road games.
Missouri next goes on the road to face Mississippi State on Wednesday. The road for the Tigers gets more difficult after that, when they play 24th-ranked South Carolina and 19th-ranked Florida in back-to-back games.
You can follow Charlie Clarke on Twitter at @CWClarke18.
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