Missouri has already had a handful of disappointing shooting nights this season. The Tigers never figured out the rims in Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, leading to two losses. The Tigers shot 32 percent in each of those games, stumbles to Creighton and Houston.
Somehow, the Tigers managed to top that Tuesday. Or bottom it, if you will. After both teams struggled through a sluggish first half, Missouri allowed Arkansas to spring to life offensively in the second half, leading to a 62-52 loss that dropped the Tigers back to .500.
Against Creighton and Houston, it seemed like the Tigers had plenty of shots rattle or roll off the rim. That was not the case against the Razorbacks; Missouri clanked everything, making zero shots outside of the paint in the second half.
"We didn't make the plays that we had to make," coach Quin Snyder said. "You just put a lot of pressure on your defense when you can't convert."
For the most part, the defense responded. Missouri held Arkansas to 39 percent shooting in the first half. The second half was not so hot -- Arkansas hit 12-of-20 shots -- but the Tigers still held Arkansas to 1-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Arkansas scored 16 fewer points than its season average but still managed a comfortable win.
After the loss, Snyder took some solace in the Tigers' commitment to defense.
"We kept ourselves in the game by playing defense," Snyder said. "I told the team at the five-minute mark, ‘Just keep defending and we're gonna make a shot.' It didn't happen that way tonight."
The struggles are difficult to explain. Snyder and his players feel they have an assortment of quality shooters, but that has yet to be fleshed out. On Tuesday, it was the worst times: led by a dismal 0-of-7 effort from freshman point guard Jason Horton, Missouri had five players take seven shots, only two of which converted more than two attempts.
It was an ugly night all around.
"When you don't see the ball go in the basket, it affects your confidence," Snyder said. "Confidence in any sport is a fragile thing. To me, the answer to that is not to worry about all that stuff but to continue to guard."
The Tigers echoed the same sentiment.
"We have to understand that, when the ball doesn't fall down, you still have to play defense no matter what," senior swingman Jason Conley said. "When you go down on the offensive end and the ball doesn't go in, I think that can take some confidence away from you on the defensive end. When that does happen, you just have to fight through it."
Gardner said he was "very frustrated" about his output -- 2-of-10 shooting, including 0-of-5 from three, for four points in 34 minutes.
"I'm supposed to be a shooter and I got a lot of open looks tonight," Gardner said. "They just weren't going in."
Arkansas was probably the best team Missouri has faced this season, meaning the Tigers' worst shooting night of the year came at the worst possible time. Snyder said he knew growing pains were coming this season, but he hoped progress would come more quickly.
"This is going to be a year that we're going to have to work hard to get better," Snyder said "And we're building; that takes time. We all would like for it be going quicker and better than it is right now…
"Again, all of a sudden you see a couple of balls go in the basket and maybe you have a slightly different situation. You can't get concerned about things you can't control."
Conley, meanwhile, still seems comfortable with the makeup of the team. He said the players' confidence has not been shaken, despite suffering through several difficult losses before the calendar turned to January.
"The thing that makes me feel good about the guys in this room is that, even though we did lose a tough, tough game tonight, we're still a team," Conley said. "We know what we have to do to win; we just have to go forward from there."
Ferg out: After sitting out the entire second half against Oakland on Saturday, junior center Jeffrey Ferguson will be out for awhile. He injured his right knee during practice on Sunday, missed Tuesday's game and will miss the Montana game Saturday.
Ferguson tore his meniscus but how the Tigers will approach the injury remains to be determined.
"I'm not sure if they're going to have surgery or if he can play on it," Snyder said. "He's talking to the doctors about it."
A quick hook: Snyder continues to drill home the importance of defense over everything else, both to his players and to the media in his postgame press conferences. He became more proactive Tuesday, pulling out players that slack off on the defensive end or are slow to get back in transition.
"I can't get them out quick enough right now if they're not defending," Snyder said.
That meant decreased playing time for both Conley and Kleiza, who finished with a team-high 14 points in 31 minutes. Frustrated that his shots were not falling, Kleiza was slow in transition a handful of times, earning him a spot on the bench for a few minutes in the middle of the second half.
Freshman forward Marshall Brown was the beneficiary of Kleiza's extra rest, finishing with a career-high 10 points in 19 minutes. He continues to be Missouri's best defender and is beginning to find his shooting touch, going 4-of-7 against Arkansas and two of the Tigers' three 3-pointers.
"Anybody that comes in and can guard makes a case," Snyder said. "We've got some guys that have been our more productive players and they're struggling a little bit. We've got to look for ways to help them."
To Snyder, that begins on the defensive end; everything else flows out of success there.
"The more we focus on our defense, the more we can generate offense off our defense and that can help our confidence," Snyder said. "When you're worried about it all the time, I think it becomes even more difficult."
Super-slow starts: Missouri continues to be icy from the field early. It took the Tigers nearly eight minutes to score their first basket Tuesday, a tip-in by Brown at 12:32. Through the first 7:27, Missouri had just three point, free throws from Conley and junior center Kevin Young.
As for why Missouri cannot score early, Snyder attributed it to a lack of confidence.
"Sometimes your frustration can mount as a player," Snyder said. "We got guys that had some shots that are open and feel like they're making them. We had some balls hang on the rim. I thought our offense would come around as we got more comfortable."
It didn't. McKinney said he could not pinpoint a reason for the slow starts, lapsing instead into disappointment about how the Tigers have fared in this young season.
"There's nothing to point to," he said. "It's just tough when you're shooting the ball, you're getting open shots and good looks. We've got great shooters but they're just not falling. It's just tough right now."
Mike's musings: Even with the torn meniscus, Ferguson could return to the court soon. It's an injury that some athletes can play with, but the more important question is if the Tigers really need him. The Tigers are getting great minutes from Brown, and fellow freshman Kalen Grimes continues to provide a spark in the few minutes he plays. He scored four points and had a block in eight minutes Tuesday. … Sophomore point guard Spencer Laurie looks like he is still bothered by his high ankle sprain. He played just two minutes in the first half against Arkansas before sitting out the second.
Kleiza had a double-double, pulling down 11 rebounds to go with his 14 points. He chipped in five turnovers, too, tying McKinney for the team-high among the Tigers' 19 giveaways. Kleiza plays with a lot of emotion on the floor but needs to learn to harness it. It affects him too much on the defensive end, where he is already not the soundest player. Prediction review: For the first time this year, I called for a Missouri loss. Unfortunately, I was correct. I'm surprised that both teams struggled offensively as mightily as they did, but maybe I shouldn't be. Missouri can't find any consistency on either end of the court right now. They'll need to find it as soon as possible to avoid slipping well below the .500 mark before Big 12 play begins.