Missouri on orange alert after loss

With another chance on national television against a ranked team, the Missouri defense broke down too many times, and with a tough stretch ahead, the Tigers dropped to .500.

There could have been plenty of ifs.

If Missouri made even half of its 3-pointers, if the officials don't call a questionable intentional foul, if Missouri could have gotten the ball inside, if Syracuse hadn't shot so well above its average on free throws, if, if, if.

But after the Tigers fell 82-68 to No. 17 Syracuse, there were no more ifs, only an honest assessment from coach Quin Snyder.

"When you can't stop them, it's hard to win," Snyder said. "Defensively, we just had breakdown after breakdown. They were all mental breakdowns, and when the ball's up you have to go get it.

"Obviously, I'm the coach, I'm responsible. I'm the guy who's supposed to get them playing defense."

Defense was the downfall for Missouri on Monday, allowing Syracuse to shoot 44.3 percent and only forcing seven turnovers. When Orangemen center Craig Forth, who averaged fewer than five points, had 10 at halftime, it was obvious something was wrong.

And Missouri was only trailing 38-32 at that point. It would only get worse. And at one point in the second half, Missouri again heard boos from its fans.

"We should have got booed," guard Jimmy McKinney said. "We got beat in our own backyard."

For every Tiger run, every Rickey Paulding drive that gave Missouri hope, Syracuse came right back. And in the end, it was just too much.

"It wasn't hard to catch up, but we were making mental breakdowns, and when we were making a run, they were getting easy baskets," McKinney said. "They were getting easy baskets all night. I don't know how, but it was our mental focus."

Missouri had pulled to 43-40 on a Paulding baseline drive with 16:45 left, and then Syracuse had more than its share of answers. The Orangemen went on a 19-2 run, putting Missouri more than out of reach.

In that stretch the Tigers missed five shots, three of them 3-pointers, and turned the ball over three times, but it very well could have been four counting McKinney's ill-timed and questionable technical foul. With 11:30 left, Missouri trailed 55-42 and had possession of the ball going into a TV timeout. As McKinney tried to get back to the bench, he ran into Forth, who reacted to the hit probably a tad too much for a 7-footer.

"That was so ridiculous, man," McKinney said. "But the ref called, I don't know why he called it, it was a little bump, but I was trying to get to my bench, he was trying to get to his bench. I didn't elbow. It was a call that really hurt us."

It not only gave Syracuse two free throws, which sure-shot guard Gerry McNamara made. It also gave the Orangemen the ball, and Josh Pace's alley-oop to Hakim Warrick, who had a team-high 21 points, finished off the run. It was another example of the Orangemen getting inside and finding the open player.

"They got in the lane at will," forward Travon Bryant said. "Then they got in there and made plays.

"We gotta expect that. Teams are going to make tough shots, and teams are going to make those shots. We just gotta bounce back, and come back at the same man and just score and then get a stop. We don't have that mentality right now."

Missouri finished made only 5-of-27 of its 3-pointers, and two of those came from Paulding in the last two minutes, when Missouri was out of reach.

"I think tonight, we just wanted to be aggressive and take our look when we had it," Paulding said. "And they made it hard to definitely get the ball inside, but I just think if you play better defense, most of the shots will fall and you'll get some easy stuff inside. I just think our defense really hurt us."

It was another discouraging defensive effort for Missouri, which dropped to 6-6 heading into a two-game stretch at No. 11 Oklahoma and at home against No. 18 Texas. It's the worst start for a Missouri team since the 1978-79 season.

Missouri's schedule has sure been tough, but Missouri definitely didn't figure on being at .500 at this point, especially with losses to Belmont and Iowa State. With 6-8 staring the Tigers in the face, Snyder said the defense has to get on track quick.

"We've got no choice, we've got to come together as a team," Snyder said. "It's not so much about our physical effort, but our mental effort.

"The schedule has shown our weaknesses, and what we have to do is work on them."

The disappointing second half, overshadowed one of Missouri's best starts of the season. The Tigers had only one turnover in the first 11 minutes, and it showed. Missouri had several leads, the biggest being four, and there were eight ties in the first half before Syracuse pulled away in the last two minutes of the half.

Paulding, who scored 18 points in the second half, finished with 25. McKinney had one of his best games of the season, finishing with 12 points, and perhaps more important, no turnovers.

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