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Sluggish start dooms Mizzou in loss to Seminoles

Sluggish start dooms Mizzou in loss to Seminoles

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Mizzou takes on Central Michigan in season opener

Missouri Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin yells instruction to his team during the first half of a NCAA Men's Basketball game at Mizzou Arena in Columbia on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. Mizzou is starting the year with nine new players, including four transfers. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

This time, the Missouri Tigers ran into a slow start they couldn’t overcome.

With its superior collection of depth, size and talent, Florida State blitzed Cuonzo Martin’s team from the opening tip Monday in the championship game of the Jacksonville Classic and cruised to an 81-58 victory at University of North Florida Arena.

“They were the aggressor,” Martin said on the postgame Zoom. “They play with athleticism, get to the rim, make plays. They’re good one-on-one players. We felt like our one-on-one defense had to be at a premium first and foremost.”

On Sunday, Mizzou rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit to beat Southern Methodist University in overtime. This time, against a team with multiple 7-footers, the Tigers could never ignite a comeback. The Seminoles (4-1), who never trailed and led for all but 31 seconds, had four players score in double figures and shot 61.1% from the field.

Amari Davis led the Tigers (3-2) with 14 points, while Kobe Brown added 13 on just seven field goal attempts as foul trouble again kept him on the bench for stretches. Guards Javon Pickett and DaJuan Gordon combined to shoot just 4 of 23.

Why couldn’t the Tigers mount a comeback Monday like they did Sunday?

“I’ll say (because) we played a better team, a bigger team,” Davis said. “This is basically their home court here. They had a lot of fans here and they made some early shots and made shots throughout the game. In the beginning of the game, we can’t dig that hole.”

MU turned the ball over 17 times, and FSU converted those giveaways into 24 points.

“They forced our offense out to extend more than normally, and every time we got into the paint, there was always presence there,” Brown said. “It was tough to play against.”

This was a rematch of the Tigers’ first NCAA Tournament game under Martin, a 13-point FSU victory over the Tigers in Nashville in 2018. In past years, Martin has talked about modeling his roster after Leonard Hamilton’s typical deep array of size and versatility — Hamilton played 12 players in the first half — but MU’s weaknesses were on display early and often. The Tigers struggled to run their offense through FSU’s swarming defense and couldn’t make clean passes or strong shots at the rim.

During an 11-0 run midway through the first half, FSU parlayed two Tiger turnovers into quick points, first a Jalen Warley steal and layup, then a Caleb Mills steal at half-court and feed to Cam’Ron Fletcher for an uncontested dunk. Fletcher, a former four-star standout at Vashon High, spent his freshman season at Kentucky then transferred to Florida State this past summer. Fletcher, a player Mizzou recruited out of high school but not when he transferred, finished with 12 points with three dunks and two 3-pointers.

Anthony Polite led FSU with 14 points, while Malik Osborne and Matthew Cleveland added to the balanced attack with 10 each.

With six minutes left in the first half, FSU had more points off Mizzou turnovers (16) than Mizzou had points (15). By halftime, FSU had pushed its lead to 44-23 by converting MU’s 13 turnovers into 22 points. The Noles shot 64.3% from the field and had more assists (10) than Mizzou had field goals (nine).

First-half offensive slogs have become the dominant trend through MU’s young season. The Tigers have averaged just 22 points in the first half in their past four games, but this time, against the most talented team they’ve played in the season’s first three weeks, the rally never arrived.

“If you don’t have four or five guys consistently making one-on-one plays, it can be a long night for you,” said Martin, whose team hosts Wichita State on Friday. “But I thought we passed up some 3-point shots. What we said before the game was if you have a 3-point shot you have to take it because that might be your best shot right there.”

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