Foul trouble bites Missouri as it loses third straight game at Florida

Despite another second-half collapse, despite losing two starters to foul trouble and despite facing a Florida team sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble and desperate for a win, Missouri still had a glimmer of hope.

With two final chances to take a late lead, it was fitting the ball wound up in the hands of two Missouri freshmen whose roles have only grown larger the past few months.

Down one with 42 seconds left and in possession of the ball, the Tigers went to Torrence Watson, who drove and missed a contested layup. But after Florida’s Keyontae Johnson made just one of two free throws a moment later, Missouri had the ball again down two with 23 seconds remaining.

This time, on their final possession and final breath, the Tigers used quick ball movement to swing the ball around to an open Javon Pickett, who launched a 3 on a great look to take the lead.

The shot clanked off the rim, Florida got the rebound and proceeded to win 64-60.

“I’ll go with Javon any time,” coach Cuonzo Martin said on KTGR postgame. “Torrence ... I think both of those guys. They’ve got a lot of stuff to their game. I thought they grew up. The pain in those two guys — they’ll learn from that.”

The Tigers fell to 12-14 and 3-11 in the Southeastern Conference. Their losing streak was extended to three games.

“The one thing I always say to our guys in wins, and especially in losses — learn from those lessons,” Martin said. “Painful loss, but we’ll learn from it.”

Missouri was on pace for its best win of the season as it led by nine points at halftime, but its typical second-half depression ensued.

It seemed as if the Tigers were called for fouls on every possession, and the Gators shot 16-of-19 from the charity stripe to chop down the deficit and take a 57-56 lead with about five minutes remaining.

Whistle after whistle depleted the Tigers, as freshman Xavier Pinson fouled out with five minutes, 24 seconds left and Jeremiah Tilmon followed suit less than a minute later.

Pinson scored just five points, and Tilmon scored eight, his third straight game with limited production due to foul trouble.

“That’s one thing I keep telling Jeremiah: ‘You have to give us a chance as a team,’” Martin said. “It’s just hard. It’s just stress and it’s strain because he’s so talented. We’ll continue to grow and learn from it.”

Senior KeVaughn Allen, Florida’s leading scorer, scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half. Johnson scored 13 points, and senior Jalen Hudson added 11.

Florida’s trio of guards scored 27 of the team’s 40 second-half points.

“I said to our guys at the second half, ‘This game will come down to KeVaughn Allen and Hudson making plays,’” Martin said. “That’s what older guys do. They made big shots.”

Jordan Geist and Pickett combined for 31 points, but the Tigers lacked the offensive firepower down the stretch to stave off the comeback.

They couldn’t look to Tilmon or Pinson late, and they were without Mark Smith again due to a foot injury.

Smith had returned to the Tigers’ lineup the previous two games, but he was unable to go Saturday despite traveling with the team.

“I think they’ll do more tests and X-rays just to find out whether we shut him down for the season,” Martin said. “I think we’ll know more in the next day or two.”

The game started slowly, as both teams began 3-of-8 from the field. At the under-12 media timeout, Florida led Missouri 11-10, thanks in large part to Stokes, who scored six early points off the bench. Tilmon scored the Tigers’ first six points of the game.

But an 8-0 run, fueled by 3s from Pinson and Watson and two free throws from Pinson pushed Missouri’s lead to 21-15 with 7 minutes, 41 seconds left in the first.

Though a 6-0 Florida run ensued, the Tigers rode another sharp defensive performance to a 33-24 halftime lead. The Gators shot just 30 percent from the field (1-of-6 from 3) in the first and turned the ball over seven times while Missouri committed just five giveaways.

Pickett provided the burst for MU toward the end of the first after he finished a layup and then tossed an assist to Geist for an and-one. Pickett entered halftime with seven points, four rebounds and one assist.

Tilmon only played 10 first-half minutes after committing two fouls, but Missouri’s freshmen trio picked up the slack and recorded 18 of the team’s first 30 points. The Tigers’ offensive attack was well balanced, as five players had at least five points by halftime.

Cuonzo Martin’s trend of going with four guards continued Saturday, and as the Tigers extended their lead as the first half ended, five guards were on the court at one time.

Allen, Florida’s leading scorer and senior leader, had just three points on 0-of-5 shooting in the first half.

The start of the second half continued Missouri’s momentum. Geist hit a wide-open 3 to push Missouri’s lead to 40-28 with 17:01 left, its biggest lead of the day.

But while the ball was in the air, Tilmon got whistled for his fourth foul as he jockeyed for rebounding position with 17 minutes left.

From there, it became a whistle-fest, as 14 fouls were called within the first 10 minutes.

Missouri played most of the second half without Tilmon and Pinson, and Reed Nikko had three fouls. After Tilmon left the game after his fourth, Florida outscored the Tigers 12-4.

Though Missouri committed just five turnovers in the second half, a 40 percent clip from the field and a depleted lineup were too consequential.

Without Tilmon’s heavy presence and Pinson’s help in the backcourt, the Tigers scored just 27 points in the second half.

Missouri will look to rebound Tuesday when it takes on Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi.