COLUMBIA — A new year looked to bring a new Missouri men's basketball team.
Missouri twice had double-digit first-half leads against LSU on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena and it appeared Missouri would start conference play 1-0. Yet it all unraveled for Missouri (5-8, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) in an 88-77 loss.
The excitement of starting conference play — and 2017 — off on a winning note quickly fizzled.
LSU (9-4, 1-1 SEC) started the game up 13-6 when Missouri's Terrence Phillips came off the bench and hit a deep 3-pointer. That started a 16-0 Missouri run that was highlighted by 3-pointers from Jordan Geist, Kevin Puryear and Jordan Barnett in successive possessions. Geist's 3-pointer with 5:11 left in the first half gave Missouri its largest lead of the night at 10 points.
Missouri led 40-35 at the half.
"I thought it was really one of the better first halves we played, certainly in a long time maybe with the exception of one or two all year," Missouri head coach Kim Anderson said. "We moved the ball well, we shot the ball well, we got the ball to the basket."
Missouri shot 46.9 percent on field goals and 42.9 percent from 3 in the first half, while LSU shot 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc. Barnett had 14 points in the first half shooting 6-of-9 on field goals and 2-of-5 from 3.
Yet Missouri couldn't keep its first half momentum going.
The second half started with two Missouri turnovers in the first 23 seconds, which turned into four LSU points. LSU tied the game three times early in the second half without taking the lead until Antonio Blakeney's 3 with 14:25 left gave his team the lead. Blakeney finished with 24 points.
The two teams were tied at 56 with 12:35 left when LSU went on a 9-0 run in the next four minutes. Missouri could only come as close as nine points after that run.
LSU outscored Missouri 53-37 in the second half while shooting 55 percent on field goals and 4-of-8 from beyond the 3-point line. Missouri shot 38.7 percent on field goals in the second half and was 1-of-13 from 3.
On the night, Missouri shot 16-of-26 on free throws.
"At halftime when we came out I thought the tone of the game changed, I thought it changed at the very beginning, I thought it changed when we threw the ball away on the first possession, which is something that shouldn't happen," Anderson said. "For the most part in the second half we couldn't guard the ball. That's obviously something we've worked on, they're a very quick basketball team, make plays at the basket."
Fans headed for the exits and players shook their heads in frustration as the clock winded down.
Those few who remained in the crowd gave Puryear an ovation as he left the court after fouling out with 2:01 left in the game. Puryear had 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds.
Barnett finished with 18 points. He shot 2-of-5 in the second half.
"I don't think it was anything special necessarily, we just couldn't hit shots," Barnett said of the second half. "It's been pretty much the story of the season thus far, we haven't been able to hit shots when we need them and the other teams have been."
Phillips played his first game of his Missouri career off the bench Wednesday night. He finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, one of which was an alley-oop pass that Barnett dunked in the first half.
"I talked to Terrence two or three days ago about this. It wasn't a punishment, nothing like that. I thought maybe he would give us a boost when he came off the bench," Anderson said of Phillips. "I that thought he had a chance to sit there and study kind of what's going on and come in an play. I thought he played pretty well. I thought he responded great, I thought he did exactly what we needed for him to do."
Missouri plays at noon Saturday at Georgia in the Tigers' first true road game of the season.
Notes: Sophomore guard K.J. Walton made his first start of the season. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-9 with three rebounds. ... Sophomore guard Cullen VanLeer, who played as many as 38 minutes as a starter, played a minute against LSU. ... Willie Jackson confirmed Wednesday he will transfer to Toledo after announcing he was leaving Missouri on Dec. 29. ... Freshman forward Mitchell Smith had a non-contact left ankle injury at the end of the first half. He was carried to the locker room and did not return. ... Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk released a statement prior to the game about Anderson and the state of the Tigers. "We are here to support Coach Anderson, his staff, and our student-athletes in any way possible, and do what we can to help them achieve success this season," Sterk said in the statement. "I clearly understand where our program is currently, and rest assured that we are all disappointed with where we stand entering SEC play. It is not my preferred style to make public evaluations of our staff in the middle of a season, as that is not fair to our coaches, or players. ... Any decisions that need to be made based on those evaluations will be done at the appropriate time." Anderson said he's talked with Sterk and, while he appreciates the support, knows his team is not where either want it to be. "I'm disappointed, there's no way around that," Anderson said. "But we haven't produced the results we've need to produce."