Tigers shoot blanks, fall to Houston

Second chances rarely come in the nonconference schedule, but Houston took advantage of one Wednesday, withstanding a late Missouri charge to claim a 57-55 win in the consolation championship of the Guardians Classic. The Tigers have dropped three in a row but exhibited some encouraging effort in the loss.

Kansas City -- Missouri's pregame shoot-around Wednesday was delayed about five minutes before the game as workers adjusted the rim. At the other end of the floor, Houston continued to run through their regular pregame methods undisturbed.

After all the bricks the Tigers threw up against Creighton on Tuesday, having even a little less time to shoot couldn't have helped. Despite shooting 32 percent, the Tigers had several chances to tie the game or take the lead before falling 57-55 to the Cougars in the consolation championship of the Guardians Classic.

Houston made no baskets in the final six minutes, making only two free throws in that span. But Missouri answered with misses of their own nearly every time.

"There's no way to explain it," junior guard Jimmy McKinney said. "Guys are having tough nights. There's nothing you can say about that."

Blame the lights, the arena or the snowy weather outside. Something just wasn't right.

"We're not coming back here; I don't like this gym," senior guard Jason Conley joked. "There's a long season ahead. We have a chance to turn a lot of things around this year."

Snyder could not offer a conclusive response either, but suggested his team must find more scoring options.

"It's gonna be tough to win when we shoot the way we shot," he said. "You gotta find other ways to win. Down the stretch, I thought our execution was superb. We just didn't see the ball go in the basket when we needed to…

"And when we did, it was a travel."

Junior center Kevin Young was responsible for that. With Houston leading 55-53 with 16.2 seconds left, Young appeared to lay the ball in and draw a foul. But the whistle actually signified a turnover, as the officials ruled Young shuffled his feet before laying the ball in. Video of the play confirmed the call was correct after the game.

"A tough, tough play," coach Quin Snyder said. "More than anything, looking at Kevin Young's face after the game was the hardest thing. That would have been a great thing for him individually and obviously it would have been a wonderful thing for our team."

Sophomore forward Linas Kleiza had one last chance, hoisting a turnaround baseline jumper just before the game clock expired. The floater rattled in and out, leaving Kleiza distraught and the Tigers with their third straight loss.

"We had great execution and got the ball where we wanted it," sophomore guard Thomas Gardner said of the final play. "It was just a tough break."

In the loss, the Tigers showed the fire they exhibited in their narrow loss to Davidson last week and that was lacking against Creighton. Despite trailing by as many as nine points in the second half, Missouri was more aggressive on both ends, flopping on the court for loose balls and feeding off the energy of the crowd in its comeback bid.

Despite a three-game skid, Snyder has some building blocks to play with before the Tigers return to action Sunday against Murray State.

"This is a team that's trying to find out who it is," Snyder said. "Even in defeat tonight, we found out a lot more about ourselves. It's something we can definitely move forward on."

Snyder, somewhat critical of his team to the media after the past two losses, seemed to have more faith in the effort and focus of his team Wednesday night.

"I, for one, believe that we're gonna grind through it," he said. "I have a lot of faith in those guys and I have a lot of faith in my staff and myself in our ability to handle adversity and make the adjustments we need to make to get better.

"We're learning a lot about ourselves right now."

Gardner gets starting nod: Just days after Snyder said he wanted to keep Gardner on the bench at the start of the game, he reversed gears, giving Gardner the start over Conley. Gardner missed his first shot of the game -- a 3-pointer from the left wing -- before converting a lay-up on his next chance. He finished with seven points and three rebounds on 2-of-11 shooting.

Snyder said the decision was intended to shake things up after back-to-back losses.

"I just didn't feel like we were getting what we need to get out of (Conley) in terms of his effort," Snyder said, noting he thought Conley improved in all areas against the Cougars.

"I'll do whatever it takes to win," Conley said. "If it means I have to come off the bench, then that's fine."

Conley led the Tigers with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

Take it strong, big fella?: After finding a few ways to get their big men more involved in their lost to Creighton on Tuesday, the Tigers moved away from that against the Cougars. Missouri continued to have an outside emphasis the majority of the game and it did not often pay off. The Tigers made just 2-of-16 3-pointers.

Freshman forward Kalen Grimes got more involved in the second half, finding himself unable to finish but frequently drawing contact. He could not convert from the line, either, missing three straight at one point.

Grimes finished with three points in six minutes, while Young had six points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.

Outside update: Missouri had allowed opponents to shoot a smoldering 49 percent from beyond the arc entering the game, but they seem to have Houston's number. After allowing them to shoot 6-of-15 from 3 in their first meeting, the Tigers held the Cougars to 6-of-19 shooting Wednesday.

Missouri played a little 2-3 zone defense in the first half, including one notable shift to it from a man-to-man defense on one possession.

"To me, the things that we need to do aren't about making baskets," Snyder said. "They're about defending, and that's where it will start."

The second half defense was much stronger, but it can still be summed up in one Houston possession. With the Cougars up 52-46, Missouri played 30 seconds of strong defense before Conley gave the ball handler a little too much room. Houston guard Lanny Smith saw his opportunity, snuck a few feet closer to the line and nailed a 3 from the right wing, extending the Cougar lead to nine.

Kleiza downed, but not out: Sophomore forward Linas Kleiza appeared to take a finger to his right eye with 14:20 left in the second half while scrambling for a loose ball. Kleiza doubled over in pain while the play continued. At the stoppage, trainer Pat Beckmann assisted Kleiza to the bench and applied ice to his eye. Freshman forward Marshall Brown replaced him before Kleiza returned at 12:53 with a noticeable bruise under his eye.

After his return, Kleiza airballed his first attempt, a pull-up from the left elbow, and missed his first free throw. He looked a step slow and unsure the rest of the game and finished with nine points and nine rebounds on 2-of-15 shooting in 31 minutes. It was the first time Kleiza failed to reach double digits in scoring since he scored eight points in 19 minutes against Nebraska on Jan. 24.

Mike's musings: Houston was dreadful for most of the contest but still managed to win. The Tiger coaching staff needs to take a long look in the mirror over the next few days, because what they are doing clearly is not working, especially early in the contest. With Kleiza slowed by the shot he took to the face, the Tigers looked sluggish in the closing seconds but still managed a few good looks. I'm sure they're looking forward to getting home to shoot at the more forgiving baskets of the Unnamed Sports Arena. … I continue to be less than impressed with this freshman class. Point guard Jason Horton is improving but is still struggling to get a handle on his shot, while Brown and Glen Dandridge -- who did not play against Houston -- have contributed fouls and little else. Grimes still seems to be the best of the bunch to me, so it's good to see him getting some playing time. He has a lot of work to do on the defensive end, but the same could be said for almost all of his teammates.

Prediction review: Well, at least there was more effort tonight. Houston is just not very good, forcing me to be unable to understand how the Tigers could fall to them. Still, they did, but showed some resolve in doing so. Murray State is a formidable opponent that will challenge the Tigers on Sunday; a win would go a long way toward turning this slide around. … I would like to wish the handful of you that are reading this a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Mizzou fans do not have much to be thankful for this time around, but there is usually a silver lining. This year, it's William Franklin, Linas Kleiza and Chase Daniel.

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories