Missouri put a bit of wind back in its sails on Sunday, when it overcame a 13-point halftime deficit to force overtime and ultimately beat SMU in the first game of the Jacksonville Classic. The Tigers once again started slow Monday, but it didn’t take long to become apparent that they were facing a different caliber of opponent.
Florida State suffocated the Missouri offense with its seemingly endless supply of long, athletic defenders. The Tigers struggled to find open looks or passing lanes. During the first half, they turned the ball over 13 times and made nine field goals. Quite a few of those turnovers turned into easy dunks on the other end of the floor. Florida State scored 22 points off Missouri turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
“There are few teams, if any, that have that length and athleticism, especially on the interior, of Florida State,” Cuonzo Martin said after the game, “when you have three to four seven-footers, and then if you don’t have a seven-footer, it’s 6-9, probably your best player in (Malik) Osborne.”
The Seminoles seized control with a 22-5 run in the first half and ultimately cruised to an 81-58 victory, dropping Missouri to 3-2 on the season. Here are five things we learned from the loss.
1. Cuonzo Martin has long tried to model his team after a Leonard Hamilton squad. Monday showed that Missouri has a long way to go. The athletic mismatch was obvious from the opening tip. Florida State frustrated Missouri with its length and then beat the Tigers down the floor with its speed. On the game, the Seminoles scored 24 points off Missouri giveaways.
More than any other factor, the turnovers put Missouri in an early deficit. There were certainly things Martin would have liked to see his offense do better (more on that shortly), but he and junior forward Kobe Brown also credited Florida State’s defense. The Seminoles have forced an average of 18.6 turnovers per game this season.
“It was definitely a factor,” Brown said of Florida State’s length. “They forced our offense out, to extend more than it normally is, and every time you get into the paint, there was always a presence there. So it was tough to play against.”
On the other end of the floor, Martin said Florida State simply won the majority of one-on-one matchups. That resulted in a lot of easy baskets for the Seminoles, who totaled a whopping 38 points in the paint.
“Good one on one players,” Martin said of Florida State. “We felt like our one-on-one defense had to be on a premium.”
2. Kobe Brown continued to look like Missouri’s best player, but he didn’t get a lot of help. Martin praised Brown for his assertiveness, particularly playing with foul trouble, having picked up his second foul less than nine minutes into the game. Brown finished the game with 13 points on 6-7 shooting. Only one other player, Amari Davis, reached double-figures.
Just like Martin wanted more from his one-on-one defense, he said more Missouri players needed to be able to beat their defender. And when the Tigers did manage to get the ball around the rim, they struggled to convert. Wings DaJuan Gordon, who came up clutch with 14 points against SMU, and Javon Pickett particularly struggled. Gordon and Pickett combined to shoot 4-23 from the field. Ball State transfer Boogie Coleman, who some thought would lead the team in scoring prior to the season, didn’t make a shot in 22 minutes.
Given those performances from three of Missouri’s top six minute-getters, it’s not hard to see why the Tigers failed to reach 60 points.
“Their length, their athleticism, they get in the passing lanes, they force you to make one-on-one plays, and if you don’t have four or five guys consistently making one-on-one plays, it’ll be a long night for you,” Martin said. “… We had some opportunities in the paint. We just didn’t capitalize.”
3. The lack of offense at the center spot was particularly glaring. Jordan Wilmore started the game, but it quickly became apparent that he couldn’t keep up with Florida State’s mobile forwards. Wilmore played just 10 minutes, three of which came once Martin removed his top players from the floor. All of Wilmore’s four points came in the final three minutes. Freshman Yaya Keita spelled Wilmore for 14 minutes, and he mustered just two points.
Coming into the matchup, Martin said he was counting on offensive production from Wilmore and Keita. Given Florida State’s propensity to switch all five players on the defensive end, he hoped getting smaller players on Wilmore or Keita would result in easy scoring opportunities. That wasn’t the case.
“We felt like the opportunity, especially with Jordan and Yaya somewhat, when they switch those ball screens, we should have an advantage with our big with a smaller guy on him,” Martin said. “But again, their length, their athleticism, they don’t allow you to see the interior as well.”
Going small at the center spot didn’t work, either. Missouri tried playing Ronnie DeGray there, too. DeGray, who averaged 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds across Missouri’s first four games, had just two points and four boards.
Florida State showed that the Tigers will likely be vulnerable against similarly long, athletic frontcourts. Missouri had to choose between putting size or mobility on the floor, while the Seminoles could do both. The best hope for the Tigers to fix that this season would appear to be adding Eastern Kentucky transfer Tre King, who visited campus last week.
4. Missouri hasn’t shot the ball well this season, and that continued Monday. But Martin actually wanted his team to shoot more. Martin said after the game that his team passed up some decent looks from the perimeter in the first half. Given Florida State’s freakish defense, it’s hard to get another decent look in a possession.
“What we said before the game, if you have the three-point shot, we have to take it, because that might be your best shot right there,” Martin said. “Because what happens, those guards, they’ll press up and they’ll try to corral you into those big guys in the paint.”
Missouri ultimately made just six of 22 attempts from behind the arc. It marked the third time in five games so far this season the team has shot worse than 30 percent from deep.
5. The slow starts are becoming a problematic trend. Across Missouri’s past four games, the Tigers are averaging 22 points in the first half. The Tigers have only led at the break of one of those contests. Missouri was able to climb out of the early deficits in each of the two games preceding Monday, but this time the team trailed by double-digits for the final 31-plus minutes.
“We played a better team, a bigger team,” Davis said, comparing Florida State to Missouri’s past competition this season. “… Just at the beginning of the game, we can’t dig that hole.”
Asked if he’s seen any common themes in the sluggish starts, Martin said he would have to watch film, but he said he’d like to see his players not wait so long to try to initiate the offense.
“When they’re pressuring our point guard, we’ve got to start our offense when our point guard gets across half court,” Martin said. “We gotta initiate our offense before he gets there, because their pressure is extending us out. And now all of a sudden, we’re trying to operate our offense with 15, 14, 13 seconds left on the shot clock.”
Star of the Game: Davis was probably the closest thing to a bright spot for Missouri. The Green Bay transfer had struggled shooting the ball during the Tigers’ first four games. Against Florida State, he scored a team-high 14 points. Davis knocked down six of nine shots from the field, including both of his three-point attempts.
Room for Improvement: Turnovers have been a frequent issue for Martin-coached Missouri teams, and giveaways, especially of the live ball variety, doomed the Tigers against Florida State. The good news for Missouri is it won’t likely face many other teams so adept at taking the ball away from opponents this season. The bad news is this marks the third time in five games they’ve turned the ball over at least 17 times.
“We just have to be stronger with the ball,” said Brown. “Just make better decisions. Instead of trying to force a pass to someone when they’re denied, back cut them, bring the next guy. We work on it in practice, we just gotta apply it in the game.”
What it means: Anyone optimistic that Missouri might have turned a corner during its comeback against SMU got a reality check. The Tigers are simply not ready to compete with a top-25 caliber team like Florida State at this point. In fact, the gap between Florida State and Missouri appears to be bigger than the gap between Missouri and any of the low-major opponents it has played so far this season.
Next up: Missouri will return to Mizzou Arena to host Wichita State on Friday. The Shockers are 4-1 on the season but have lost their only game against high-major competition, falling to Arizona in overtime. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
Quotable: “They switch five different ways, they’re one of the few teams. They don’t allow you to run offense, or set your traditional sets. So you gotta be able to make one-on-one plays, you gotta be able to get the ball inside to your bigs when they have smaller guys defending them.” — Cuonzo Martin