Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams called it a statistical anomaly.
Missouri had forced 20 turnovers in seven games entering Saturday’s contest against Texas A&M. They’d won all seven matchups, four of them by 20 points or more. It’s the team’s calling card — rack up extra possessions, score easy baskets in transition and overwhelm the opponent.
Mizzou’s defensive strategy went according to plan in Saturday’s game against the Aggies, as Texas A&M coughed the ball up 21 times. But little else went right for the Tigers, who finished the evening on the wrong side of the scoreboard in a 69-60 loss inside Mizzou Arena.
“Credit a tough Texas A&M team. I thought, as I said before, their team’s a Sweet 16 team. I have no clue why they’re not ranked in the top 25,” MU head coach Dennis Gates said. “We weren’t able to convert. Whenever you have that many turnovers with zero points off fast breaks, we weren’t converting on the other end.”
Missouri scored just 15 points off of the 21 turnovers it forced. There are few teams good enough in transition defense to hold the Tigers to that kind of ratio. But the Aggies (20-7, 12-2 SEC) are one of them. It didn’t help that the hosts weren’t shooting it all that well to begin with, finishing the night going 39.2% from the floor.
In addition to holding Mizzou in check on the fast break, Texas A&M made up for the possessions it lost in other ways. The visitors had 12 turnovers forced of their own and scored 11 points off of them. They also dominated on the boards, outrebounding Missouri 16-9 on the offensive glass.
A Missouri team that couldn’t shoot and a Texas A&M team that couldn’t get a shot off to begin with resulted in a boxing match in a phone booth through the opening 15 minutes of the game, with neither side able to create distance from the other.
“I don’t know if lucky is the right word, I think playing at this level is so hard,” Williams said. “But when you turn the ball over at the rate we did, that’s hard to overcome. But I do think when we didn’t turn the ball over, we did really well.”
The Aggies cleaned up its ball security in the final five minutes of the first half while keeping the Tigers cold on offense. It allowed the visitors to close out the period on a 12-2 run and take a 39-25 lead into halftime.
Missouri did a better job on both ends in the second half. Texas A&M’s field goal percentage dropped from 50.0% in the first period to 37.5% in the second. The hosts’ own field goal percentage bounced up from 30.0% in the first to 52.4% in the second. The Aggies’ lead ballooned up to 18 points with 13:38 left in the game, but a 13-3 run by the Tigers trimmed it back down to single digits four minutes later.
The visitors got into the bonus and converted their foul shots to maintain their lead down the stretch. Mizzou did the opposite — junior forward Mohamed Diarra and senior guard DeAndre Gholston each missed the front end of a 1-and-1 in the final five minutes that could’ve built momentum for the team. Texas A&M finished 17-19 at the foul line while the Tigers went 11-16.
“The game was won and lost on the free throw line, I truly believe. And that’s what allowed them to go on that run when they did in the first half,” Gates said. “I’ll have to watch the film to see what other opportunities we had to be able to get to the free throw line and draw fouls.”
The head coach was pleased with how his players adjusted in the second half and went on a few runs — MU outscored the Aggies 35-30 in the second. But Gates knows they’ll need to play that way for a full game to come out with a win.
“We played a tough team,” Gates said. “And we have to be able to bounce back and we weren’t able to do that.”
The last time Mizzou went up against Texas A&M, senior forward Kobe Brown was held to just 12 points in an 82-64 loss. It’s difficult for the Tigers to come out with wins when their leading scorer has a quiet night.
Brown played his part in Saturday’s game, though, as one of the hosts’ few bright spots. The Aggies wanted to keep the 6-foot-8, 250-pound post from bullying his way to the rim and would send extra defenders his way anytime he caught the ball inside the arc. Brown countered by going 5-7 from distance, finishing the evening with a game-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals.
Despite the strong showing, Brown thought he could’ve done more for his team.
“I feel like there’s always room for growth,” Brown said. “I have to be better at a lot of things.”
Texas A&M’s head coach considers Missouri to be an outlier in the SEC. The Aggies have to prepare a game plan against the Tigers that’s completely different from the other 12 teams in the league Texas A&M has to face.
It’s one of the reasons Williams believes Mizzou has been so successful this year. He gives Gates most of the credit.
“He’s Coach of the Year in the SEC,” Williams said. “I think what he’s done relative to the complexion of the roster, what he did in non-conference play and then what’s changed in this arena, just that should make him Coach of the Year. But I think how he utilizes their players, they’re just really hard to guard.”
Senior guard Tre Gomillion hadn’t played since Missouri’s game against Alabama on Jan. 21, recovering from a groin injury he suffered while playing against the Crimson Tide. Gates said he wanted to be cautious with bringing Gommillion back and had the Cleveland State transfer ease his way through warmups before the Tigers’ last couple of outings.
Gomillion finally returned to the floor on Saturday. Though he only played three minutes, it was a positive step forward for the team captain. Gates will now look to reconfigure Gomillion into the rotation during the team’s final four games of the regular season.
The Tigers (19-8, 7-7 SEC) remain home, hosting Mississippi State (18-9, 6-8) inside Mizzou Arena on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
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