KANSAS CITY — You know Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin is frustrated with his defense when he’s thinking about playing zone.
That was his first takeaway from the Tigers’ 77-66 loss to Oklahoma in Tuesday’s consolation game at the Hall of Fame Classic, after the Tigers gave up a season-high for points and field goals (23).
“Defensively, you have to play from start to finish,” Martin said after the Tigers dropped to 4-3 and 0-3 against teams from high-major conferences. “We dig ourselves a hole defensively and all of a sudden say, ‘Let’s play some defense.’ It’s too hard against teams that score the ball.”
Missouri had the biggest crowds and perhaps the most to gain in two appearances at the Sprint Center but instead made the short trip home with two painful losses. Once again Tuesday, the Tigers tripped over their Nikes coming out of the locker room and fell behind 15-3, just like they did by the same score in Monday’s loss to Butler. This time, Martin’s team stormed back and trimmed an 18-point deficit to three only to crumble late.
Mizzou, the team that was supposed to enjoy the tournament’s home-court advantage, led for all of 66 seconds in the two games here. The Tigers opened Monday’s game with a Kobe Brown 3-pointer, good for their first and only lead of the two-game swing through Kansas City.
On Tuesday, Oklahoma (6-1) connected on its first eight field goal attempts, including three quick 3-pointers by 6-9 forward Brady Manek, who just like Butler’s Bryce Golden the night before, found open spaces on the perimeter away from Mizzou center Jeremiah Tilmon and drilled open shot after open shot.
“I think that really we just got to go out there and fight harder in the beginning,” Missouri guard Torrence Watson said. “Coach really just talked about we got to figure out what’s causing us to not execute those first four, seven minutes. We’ve got to just go back to Colombia, get back working on Friday and just really put in the work so we can change things.”
With Tilmon and Mark Smith leading the charge, Mizzou got within a point midway through the second half, 49-48, on a couple of Smith free throws, but Sooners forwards Manek and Kristian Doolittle got loose for open jumpers to stifle the rally. Javon Pickett’s layup cut the deficit to three, but the Sooners quickly regained control with an 8-0 run and led by at least seven the rest of the way.
“We just made a couple big buckets,” said Sooners coach Lon Kruger, now 2-0 against Mizzou since the Tigers left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. “It usually comes down to making shots or getting a defensive stop or two. ... They made a good run, crowd got into it. But great experience for our guys.”
Smith shook off his shooting slump to finish with 18 points, while Tilmon gave the Tigers 13, 11 coming in the second half when he and Smith combined to score 27 of MU’s 37 points. Watson paced MU early with nine of his 11 points in the first half, but the Tigers missed point guard Xavier Pinson, who sat out the second half nursing a sore right knee. He walked out of the arena on his own with a bag of ice on his knee. Martin didn’t seem too concerned about his status — but much more concerned about his defense, which was this team’s strength through the first two weeks of the season. Mizzou’s first six opponents averaged just 55.3 points per game.
“I think (after) tonight you look at possibly playing a zone if teams are smaller with five guys that can make plays,” said Martin, a strict man-to-man disciple. “That puts your (center) in such a tough position when you’re trying to defend like that, even though we don’t spend a lot of time playing zone. But that’s probably something you’ve got to look at.”
Austin Reaves led four Sooners in double figures with 19 points, while Manek finished with 17.
For the Tigers, Dru Smith struggled with fouls early and scored only four points, though finished with seven assists.
After shooting just 1 of 6 on Monday, Mark Smith opened Tuesday’s game missing four of his five shots in the first half, then rallied the Tigers with his second-half hot streak.
“I found my groove in the second half,” he said. “They were kind of pressing up on me, so I tried to get to the basket, try to rebound and just play defense. I’m not really too worried if my shot’s not falling or not (falling) in the beginning. I’m just trying to play hard and grab rebounds, talk, just to be a leader so we can be together as a unit.”
Now that unit comes home searching for solutions.