Cameron Thomas and LSU hang on to win a tough road victory over the Missouri Tigers
The morale and energy levels inside Mizzou Arena were through the roof just before tipping off Missouri’s Senior Night matchup against the LSU Tigers. Missouri had seemingly just silenced a recent cold streak this Wednesday on the road versus Florida, giving them some much needed inspiration before this afternoon’s contest. “[Last game] has given us more momentum…I feel like it gave us confidence,” Jeremiah Tilmon said in yesterday’s press conference.
Needless to say, the momentum Missouri was riding came up just a tad short.
The opening minutes of today’s competition looked like something of a track meet, with both sides matching one another’s pace. LSU opened very efficient from the field, converting a couple tough shots over some solid Missouri defense. LSU freshman Cameron Thomas had a sensational opening half, scoring thirteen points on 5-8 shooting.
“[Thomas] hit some tough ones, and the ones that he didn’t make, we were fouling him,” Dru Smith mentioned in the post-game. “I think we crawled into him a little too much.” Thomas got to the line six different occasions this afternoon, and shot an impressive 83% from the field.
LSU emerged as the front runner early, following an offensive charge on Kobe Brown. That offensive possession for Missouri was followed by three more poor offensive series — shot clock violation, missed shot, and a turnover — which empowered LSU to extend its lead to ten points. Missouri struggled to muster much on the offensive side of the ball for a while in the first half, though that would change down the stretch.
Torrence Watson checked into the game — after not seeing any action against Florida — and swiftly put up five points, giving Missouri a dosage of some seriously needed offensive firepower. Additionally, Drew Buggs decided to show off some of his offensive capabilities on his senior night. To keep Missouri in line with LSU, Buggs completed a rare (for Missouri, at least) four-point play after getting fouled from behind the arc.
Later, Watson cut LSU’s lead back down to just one point after drilling another three — he’d finish the first half with a healthy nine points. LSU led by as many as eleven in the first half, but their lead evaporated within the last minute.
At halftime, the Tigers were deadlocked at 40.
The scoring came in a surplus to get the second half rolling, as Missouri took the lead by the first media timeout. Similar to the second half in the game earlier this week at Florida, neither team was able to take control fully, so the score remained close.
There were a copious amount of fouls called on Missouri early on, much to the displeasure of a faithful home crowd (editor’s note: it’s true… we were real mad), which put LSU in the bonus with around 13 minutes left in the half. With an abundance of time left on the clock, Jeremiah Tilmon was called for his fourth personal foul on a controversial call — Tilmon had no choice but to keep playing, however. Cheers erupted from the stands after a whistle was blown against LSU, sending Dru Smith to the line for two free throws.
In a very even matchup between two top-half SEC teams, Cameron Thomas continued to be the x-factor for LSU as the second half went on. Thomas led all scorers by game’s end with an impressive 29 points. For a freshman, he can certainly cause problems for opposing defenses.
“The one thing about Cam Thomas is he gets to the free throw line,” Coach Martin explained in the post-game. “If you double him, they have such good spacing, it’s hard to double.”
By the under-eight timeout, Missouri hung on to a 66-65 lead, though both teams exchanged the lead back and fourth as the game entered crunch time. With two minutes remaining, LSU moved out in front by a score of 80-76, and their fast pace resulted in multiple physical drives to the basket throughout the afternoon.
Both teams were at the double-bonus limit, but Missouri was in some serious foul trouble — Brown, Tilmon and Dru Smith all played with four personal fouls down the stretch. Today’s matchup was a race from the get go, and once it had reached the final minute, it was clear that whichever team could keep their calm was going to walk out the building victorious.
Down four with just under two minutes to play, Missouri benefited immensely off a flagrant foul called on LSU. Pinson successfully sunk both free throws and then Missouri received the ball on the sideline. Mitchell Smith finished a great play on a second chance below the rim to tie things at 80, but unfortunately, Trendon Watford converted a floater on the other end for LSU to help them regain the lead. Missouri then came up short on the ensuing possession, which forced them to send LSU to the line, with the clock now under thirty seconds.
LSU would hang on and the other Tigers won 86-80 on senior night.
Following the buzzer, Missouri honored five of its seniors at midcourt in a heartwarming farewell ceremony. Seniors were met by Cuonzo Martin and given a framed black and gold jersey with their number on it while their families were escorted to the front row of section 119 (where the team comes out of the tunnel) to cheer them on. The senior players looked a bit unenergized as their names were being called over the loudspeaker, and rightfully so, having just fallen in a tough loss. The faithful Missouri fans that chose to stick around were sure to offer a huge hand for all the hard work they’ve sacrificed over the years.
“We’ve got to put this one behind us,” Dru Smith explained. “We would have loved to win the game on Senior Day and everything, but we’ve got to forget about it.”
Missouri’s regular season has come to an end, and the No. 7 seed Tigers will now gear up for the SEC tournament, where they’ll face No. 10 seed Georgia on Thursday evening.