Familiar issues emerge for shorthanded Tigers as Mizzou falls to Mississippi State

Missouri men’s basketball entered Humphrey Coliseum having lost seven consecutive road games at Mississippi State. Even though the 2022-23 edition of the team has been radically changed with the addition of head coach Dennis Gates, things didn’t change in Starkville, Mississippi.

The Tigers lost their eighth straight game to the Bulldogs, dropping a 63-52 clunker on Saturday. The loss, which snapped a three-game win streak against Ole Miss, Iowa State and LSU, dropped Gates’ team to 17-6 on the season, 5-5 in SEC play.

Missouri seemingly had no answer for Mississippi State center Tolu Smith, who finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Smith’s height and ability to make things happen in the paint posed major problems for the Tigers.

“I thought he finished through contact well,” Gates said of Smith after the game. “Drew fouls. I think the first five minutes of the game he had eight free-throw attempts at that moment. He was 3-for-4 from the field as well.”

The main issue was, as it has been in nearly all of Missouri’s losses this season, a sudden cold shooting streak. The Tigers couldn’t seem to find the bottom of the basket all night, especially from three-point range.

MU hit just 6 of 23 attempts from three. The Tigers also had issues shooting free throws, going 14-of-21 from the charity stripe, including some key misses with a chance to narrow the Bulldogs’ lead late in the game.

DeAndre Gholston led the Tigers with 12 points. Mo Diarra had the team lead for rebounds with 10.

The Tigers will be back in action on Tuesday, taking on South Carolina at Mizzou Arena. Tip is scheduled for 8 p.m. in that game, which will be aired on SEC Network.

Styles make fights

Mississippi State loves to slow down basketball games. The Bulldogs aren’t known for an overpowering offense, instead opting to rely on one of the top defenses in the SEC in order to grind out victories.

Under Gates, Missouri has taken to a high-powered offensive attack, seeking to bludgeon teams with speed and score enough points to make a height disadvantage less consequential. Saturday’s contest was going to come down to which team was able to dictate how the game was played.

Before the first media timeout, it seemed the Tigers had gone completely stale offensively. At the under-16 break, they hadn’t hit a single field goal and were being taken to the woodshed on the boards by the Bulldogs, who had already earned four second-chance points.

As the half progressed, Mississippi State’s way of playing seemed to win out. Missouri was hurt throughout the first by its inability to hit shots.

The Tigers went 1-for-11 from three-point range in the first half, a far cry from the shooting performances they displayed against Iowa State and LSU. Gates has also stressed the need for MU to have a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and the Tigers didn’t respond to that call in the first half either.

Missouri turned the ball over nine times, with only three assists to counter. Through a strong effort from Gholston, who led the Tigers with nine points in the period, the game remained close, with Mississippi State taking a 33-27 lead to the break.

Missouri ended up with 10 assists to 15 turnovers. Gate stressed that issue after the game.

“We are a team that has a positive assist-to turnover ratio,” Gates said. “I would rather have those five possessions back and it’s a completely different game.”

Lineup changes

The Tigers were without two of their regular contributors on Saturday, with Tre Gomillion missing due to a lingering groin injury and Ronnie DeGray III out with a knee issue. In their absence, Gates got experimental with the lineups.

Sean East II earned his first start of the season, in the spot where Isiaih Mosley had been previously. He wasn’t the only one seeing more action though, with every available Tigers player besides walk-ons Jackson Francois and Ben Sternberg, along with freshman Aidan Shaw, playing in the first half alone.

“I wanted more penetration,” Gates said of the change in Saturday’s starters. “And Sean gave us that.”

Kaleb Brown had been playing more in recent games, especially with Gomillion out, but got even more involved against the Bulldogs. He played seven minutes in the first and finished the game with nine minutes, contributing two rebounds.

Saturday also was marked by the first appearance of reserve center Mabor Majak since November. He played five minutes in the first half, picking up two personal fouls.

“I thought Mabor was gonna be able to give us minutes,” Gates said. “Which, with some positive minutes he gave us, I wish I could have played him more.”

With Noah Carter picking up three fouls in the first, Mo Diarra was an even more important piece than he had been — even in recent weeks, when he had become a larger part of MU’s lineup.

Diarra, who was recruited by Mississippi State before committing to Missouri last spring, finished with 10 rebounds and six points.

The Star has partnered with the Columbia Daily Tribune for coverage of Missouri Tigers athletics.