After 30 minutes, Missouri looked uninspired, a step slow and uncertain of its own ability.
In a span of five minutes in the second half, the Tigers turned the game around completely with a 23-5 run. The Tigers had drawn within one point, the arena was rocking and everything was going Missouri's way.
Then, as quickly as it started, it ended. Davidson scored 12 straight points, seized control again and held on for an 84-81 win.
Coach Quin Snyder seemed frustrated over a lack of focus early in the contest.
"More than anything, they were just tougher than we were, particularly on the glass," Snyder said.
Missouri looked unprepared in the first half and didn't do much to make up for it until it was too late. The Tigers looked hapless when Davidson switched to a 2-3 zone, as the look threw off their focus once again. After shooting just 36 percent compared to the Wildcats' impressive 52 percent, Missouri finished the first half down by eight.
Davidson got even hotter after the break. The Wildcats missed just six shots in the final 20 minutes, five of which came from outside the arc, a smoldering 70 percent mark that the Tigers could not match.
"Some of those shots they hit, you just tip your hat," Snyder said. "I thought there were other ones where we let up."
Junior guard Jimmy McKinney agreed, suggesting the defense was too lax to stop a talented shooting team like Davidson.
"We gave them chance after chance," he said. "We have just gotta learn how to take our chances and make them into positives. Tonight, we just didn't do it."
After Davidson regained a 13-point lead, the Tigers cut it to two in the final minute. Down three points and with the last possession, the Tigers had three chances to tie the game but missed the mark each time.
"We didn't play with urgency until we got way down, then we looked like a completely different team," Snyder said. "When you have to expend that much energy, you put yourself in a tough position trying to get over the hump."
Missouri never quite made it, earning its first loss of the young season. Davidson coach Bob McKillop said the game showed the potential of a rising Wildcat program.
"This was a great testing ground for us, to see what kind of courage we have, to see what kind of resilience and toughness we have," he said. "Our mental toughness really showed up tonight."
Just down the hall, an unusually candid Snyder questioned his team's performance repeatedly.
"We can't coach effort," Snyder said. "The effort's got to be there throughout the game."
Getting the effort together must happen immediately, senior swingman Jason Conley said.
"This is it right now," Conley said. "We can't say, like 10 games from now, we're gonna figure it out. If it's not gonna happen now, it's gonna be a long year."
Bad timing: Sophomore forward Linas Kleiza took over the game when the Tigers needed him, finishing with a career-high 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Kleiza was strong at the line, the site of recent difficulties, hitting 7-of-8.
Without Kleiza's effort, the Tigers would have been run right out of their brand new arena. But it was all for naught.
"It doesn't mean anything," Kleiza said of his strong night. "We came away with a ‘L.' I just want to win."
Outside of two highlight reel dunks by Conley, Kleiza was the Tigers' only consistent threat in the first half, finishing it with 11 points in 19 minutes. Kleiza looked gassed late in the game, forcing Snyder to take him out briefly in spite of his hot run. There was a team-wide trend of tired bodies, Snyder said, perhaps connected to Missouri's back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday.
"I thought we just looked drained, emotionally as well as physically," he said. "We had a bunch of key mistakes."
Before resuming play in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic against Creighton on Tuesday, Missouri has a few days to put the pieces back together. Kleiza said there would be no excuse for this loss to linger and affect the Tigers down the line.
"If it's difficult to bounce back, we shouldn't be playing basketball," he said. "That's a game; you win (or) you lose, but you gotta bounce back. It's all about tomorrow now."
Lacking intensity: After struggling early before putting together runs that resulted in wins against Brown and Houston, Missouri had a comeback fall short against the Wildcats. Finding that emotional focus when the ball is thrown into the air is a goal that the Tigers have yet to meet.
"We struggled from the tip," McKinney said. "We gave them open looks, a chance to get in a comfort zone. A team like that, you can't give them a chance to get their confidence up."
McKinney blamed the sloppy early play on a lack of consistency on the defensive end.
"Our communication was real low tonight," he said. "Communication was just terrible. That's how they got open looks."
Sophomore guard Thomas Gardner looked at it differently, suggesting the Tigers were not emotional enough early.
"It's just our intensity level," Gardner said. "When we play with energy and have a high intensity, our team plays better. The first half, we just didn't have it."
That's all well and good, but why -- or more importantly, how -- does that happen?
"There's really no explanation," Gardner said. "All we can do is try to figure out how to be consistent with our energy in the first half and play the same way in the first half as we do in the second half."
Kleiza, who cannot be blamed for a lack of effort early, said he saw some laxness in his teammates early on.
"Some of us didn't defend that well," he said. "We didn't defend the 3-point line. We were excited about this game…we just took it for granted a little bit. They're a good team and they made us pay."
With a chance to regain some momentum next week, Kleiza said the Tigers now know what it will take.
"We can't bring it like 10 minutes, 15 minutes (in,)" he said. "That's not gonna cut it against a good team. We're young, but we gotta get better. We gotta start it going right now and just get better."
Too many chances?: Thanks to Davidson's hot shooting -- and 21 turnovers -- the Tigers attempted 20 more shots than the Wildcats did. Connected to that, of course, is the number of rebounds: Davidson had 29 of its boards on the defensive glass, while Missouri had 15 of its 26 there.
To be outrebounded by 10 is something Snyder cannot tolerate.
"They were tougher than we were," Snyder said. "They knock you around, they play physical. The last 10 minutes, our guys started playing at that level of toughness. We were grabbing some big rebounds, we were diving on the floor. Early on, I just didn't see that from our team and that's disappointing because I know what we talked about in our preparation."
Snyder said he saw this as one of those games that a youth-heavy roster will go through as it grows older.
"With a young team, there's some lessons you have to learn and sometimes they're painful," he said. "This is obviously a tough one."
Mike's musings: One of the bright spots was the effort of sophomore point guard Spencer Laurie, who finished with three assists, three steals and two turnovers in 13 minutes. With the Tigers' deficit in double digits, Laurie stole two balls away in the front court, resulting in quick points. McKinney did the same thing later in the game, sparking Missouri's final rally. Laurie was on the bench in the final minutes, though, likely because Snyder wanted five scoring threats on the floor. … Freshman forward Glen Dandridge has fallen almost completely out of the rotation. He played just one minute against the Wildcats.
In the second half, Missouri doubled up its first-half production, going from 27 points to 54. Part of that is due to the Tigers' ability to get to the free-throw line, where they made 16-of-20 on the evening. That's a good sign, but Missouri's 11-of-30 mark from the outside is more distressing than the free throw stat is encouraging. … Prediction review: I called for a comfortable Missouri win, so I was off the mark there. Davidson made 60 percent of its shots, and they weren't all easy ones, either. There really is no excuse to give up 84 points to a Southern Conference team, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Wildcats gave Duke fits when the teams meet next week. Regardless, a difficult loss for the Tigers to cope with.