COLUMBIA, Mo. — Saturday was nearly a perfect one at Mizzou Arena.
John Brown, who was a three-year player for Norm Stewart in the 1970s, a first-round draft pick by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team while in college, had his No. 50 retired.
At halftime, a student made the half-court shot and won $5,000.
But the Missouri men's basketball team could not hold an eight-point halftime lead and fell 73-68 to Mississippi in the final minute of Saturday's home finale. The Tigers finish the regular season 14-16 overall, 5-13 in the Southeastern Conference and have locked in the No. 12 seed for next week's conference tournament in Nashville.
Jordan Geist scored 12 points and Kevin Puryear six in their final game on Norm Stewart Court, but Missouri was led by a pair of freshmen, including a career-high 20 points from Xavier Pinson, as well as six assists, and 14 points from Torrence Watson. Jeremiah Tilmon added 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
"We wanted to get our guys Wolf, Cullen, Geist, Kev, really wanted to get them a win, we even wanted to get Wolf in, but that's a really tough loss," Watson said after the game. "Especially when you know those guys won't play on this floor again, and last home game of the season for us. It was really tough for us."
The Tigers led by three with just more than two minutes to play, but gave up an offensive rebound to the Rebels, and then Watson slipped on a closeout which gave Terence Davis an open lane to the basket, and he converted an and-1 dunk to tie the game at 66. Mississippi outscored Missouri 7-2 after that dunk.
Breein Tyree scored 21 points to lead all scorers, and Devontae Shuler scored 18 for the Rebels playing through a busted lip. Mississippi shot 7-of-14 from 3-point range in the second half and 8-of-22 in the game, and the team was 19-of-21 at the foul line. Missouri shot 8-of-17 from three and 10-of-12 from the line.
Missouri led 34-26 at halftime after a slow start from both teams and used a 14-2 run at the end of the first half to build that advantage.
It's certainly not the way the Tigers wanted to end the season, and not the way the team wanted to send its seniors out. But there are definite signs of growth. Between the 2:04 mark of the first half and the 17:18 mark of the second half, the duo of Watson and Pinson scored 17 straight points for Missouri. Javon Pickett, the third member of the freshman guard group, did not play with back tightness.
Watson and Pinson recognized that Mississippi was playing to their reputations as 3-point shooters and closing out too quickly, and both took advantage of it, beating their man to the rim off the dribble multiple times each.
"I think he's one of the most-improved players in our league," Rebels head coach Kermit Davis said of Watson. "I said it to our staff, I mean, there's no doubt. And those three young guards, they're going to be something in our league. They're tough, they're Cuonzo's type of guys. They play downhill, you can tell they want to be coached, not afraid to be coached. I love 'em. I do.
"They've got a bright future here with those perimeter players."
As the No. 12 seed in the SEC Tournament, which runs from Wednesday, March 13 to Sunday March 17, in Nashville, Missouri will face No. 13 Georgia at 6 p.m. Wednesday. With a win, the Tigers would play No. 5 Auburn at 2 p.m. Thursday. The first two rounds will be televised on SEC Network, with all games starting with quarterfinal play Friday to be televised on ESPN.