Missouri men's basketball trailed No. 14 West Virginia by only one point with 19 minutes remaining Saturday afternoon.
Then the Tigers’ recurring offensive woes, which have continually sunk them in Southeastern Conference play, surfaced once again in their nonconference finale of the regular season.
Missouri struggled through the next six minutes without a point. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, climbed their way to a 21-0 run, turning an upset bid into a blowout.
Missouri was outscored by 22 points in the second half, falling 74-51 on the road at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The Tigers (9-10) now have a losing record for the first time this season. This was their sixth loss in seven games and fourth straight defeat.
“In the second half, (West Virginia) turned the heat up from an aggressive standpoint, rebounding and physical play,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They went to their bigs and everything else just kind of opened from there.”
West Virginia, projected to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, improves to 16-3.
Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins tied former longtime Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp with 876 career wins for seventh all-time in Division I men’s basketball.
Missouri’s Torrence Watson was the leading scorer for the game with 19 points. Watson made the Tigers' deficit look less steep with three 3-pointers in the final minutes.
“I'm happy he made shots, but we need them at critical times,” Martin said of Watson. “... When the game is live and it’s in motion, we need those same baskets.”
No other Tiger scored in double figures. Kobe Brown and Xavier Pinson each scored six points off the bench.
The Missouri starting five of Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Mitchell Smith, Javon Pickett and Reed Nikko combined to score 14 points. The starters shot 3 of 23 combined from the floor. Mitchell Smith, Mark Smith and Nikko each made one basket.
Only two Missouri players (Watson and Pinson) made more than one field goal in the game.
“When (the Mountaineers) turned the heat up and presented an aggressive nature, we became passive," Martin said.
Missouri never led despite a 17-4 run to end the first half. The Tigers got off to another rough start, scoring six points in the first 12 minutes.
MU shot under 30% from the field (15-for-53, 28.3%) and from 3-point range (7 of 26, 26.9%) in the loss.
After the game, Huggins, who is eligible to be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for the first time this year, was indifferent about whether Missouri’s low shooting percentages were a credit to his team or not.
"I don't know. If we shot 28%, I’d say we sucked on offense, but it depends on how you want to look at it,” Huggins said.
Missouri’s 3-point shooting over its past four games has been a cause for concern, with a combined mark of 16-for-106, just more than 15%.
Axel Okongo scored his first points as a Tiger against West Virginia with a dunk that ended the Mountaineers' 21-0 run.
Missouri falls to 1-2 all-time in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Tigers had not participated in the annual showcase since the 2014-15 season. In December 2013, Missouri defeated West Virginia at home, then lost the next season to Oklahoma on the road.
Tigers junior center Jeremiah Tilmon sat out again, missing his seventh out of eight games, still dealing with a stress fracture in his left foot.
His presence could’ve helped close the gap between the teams as West Virginia outrebounded Missouri 50-30.
Mountaineers frontcourt starters Jermaine Haley and Oscar Thsiebwe scored 15 and 14 points, respectively, in the win. Haley tied West Virginia guard Miles McBride for the team lead in scoring.
Dru Smith left the game late after turning his ankle, but the Missouri guard said after the loss he was fine after receiving treatment.
Missouri returns to SEC action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against Georgia at Mizzou Arena.