By Michael Losch
There is no team in the country that had a better opportunity than Missouri to pick up a win that would boost its NCAA tournament resume on Friday afternoon.
The Tigers gave the No. 1 Florida Gators, the winner of 23 straight games and undefeated in league play, everything they could handle for 30 minutes but fell 72-49 in Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinal action.
Missouri coach Frank Haith said his team just went cold in the final 10 minutes.
“We needed to continue to score and we weren’t able to,” Haith said. “Florida’s a great team. They executed very well, we just wore down a little bit and ran out of gas.”
Missouri guard Jabari Brown scored 18 points for the Tigers and fellow guard Jordan Clarkson added 11 with just two assists and six turnovers.
Early on, Missouri looked determined and showed plenty of fight. They bounced back from a five-minute scoring drought and 11-3 Florida run in the first half with a 6-0 run of its own.
Just before halftime, Clarkson dumped the ball off to forward Ryan Rosburg for a slam at the buzzer and the two teams were tied at 29.
Missouri started the second half slow offensively, but Florida did not. The Gators went on a 7-0 run before the Tigers responded. Missouri managed to claw its way back to cut it to 38-36. That would be the closest the Tigers got for the rest of the game.
In the span of about 20 seconds the Gators destroyed any hope for Missouri to make a comeback with another 7-0 run.
Florida forward Will Yeguete started the run with a lay up and then Florida guard and SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin stole the Missouri inbound pass and proceeded to hit a 3-pointer from the corner.
Florida quickly scored again with a basket from forward Patric Young and just like that Missouri found itself down 45-36. The Gators then went on cruise control as they put up 34 points to the Tiger’s 13.
Missouri finished the game shooting 36 percent from the floor and just 1-13 behind the 3-point line.
Part of Florida’s dominance can be attributed to its ability to shoot 3-pointers. Wilbekin added 15 points, shooting five of six behind the 3-point line. Guard Michael Fraizer did just the same, adding 15 of his own by making five of his seven attempts. The Gators made 12 3-pointers total, shooting 57 percent.
Missouri has no more chances to improve its resume (22-11, 9-9) and are at the mercy of the NCAA tournament committee.
“I want us to continue to play hard and compete,” Haith said. “We’re gonna compete for a championship one way or the other, whatever tournament we’re in and that’s a blessing.”
The Tigers will find out if they worked their way into an NCAA tournament bid on Sunday when the committee reveals the field of 68 teams. The selection show is scheduled to air at 5 p.m. Central time on CBS.