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LEXINGTON, Ky. — For a few moments in the first half, it looked like Missouri might find a way to hang with No. 18 Kentucky. With head coach Cuonzo Martin absent due to a positive COVID-19 test, the Tigers stumbled out of the gate, falling behind 11-2 less than two-and-a-half minutes into the contest. But a 12-0 run gave Missouri a rare lead in Rupp Arena, where the Tigers have never won. When shooting guard Amari Davis followed a Missouri bucket by stealing Kentucky’s inbound pass and laying the ball in, the Tigers led 18-17.

Mizzou couldn’t keep the momentum rolling on the offensive end. With leading scorer Kobe Brown already on the bench with two fouls, the Tigers proceeded to make just two of their next 19 field goal attempts. During that stretch, Kentucky turned its one-point deficit into a 20-point lead.

Missouri would keep clawing, cutting its deficit to single digits multiple times during the second half, but could never climb out of the hole. The Wildcats ultimately won 83-56 to drop Missouri below .500 for the season and 0-1 in SEC play.

Here are five things we learned from the game.

1. Even with Martin absent, the coaching staff wouldn’t insert players with two fouls back into the game before halftime. That may have played a role in the deficit growing too large to overcome.

Brown got into foul trouble early, picking up his second foul with 14:26 left in the first half. He went to the bench and never returned. And while Missouri’s 12-0 run did come shortly after he left the lineup, the Tigers clearly missed him. Reserve forwards Yaya Keita and Jordan Wilmore both struggled and combined to play just five minutes. Neither scored. Then Davis, Missouri’s second-leading scorer, picked up his foul with 6:41 to play before halftime. He, too, spent the remainder of the half on the bench. Kentucky out-scored Missouri 18-7 with Davis out of the lineup.

Asked after the game why he opted to sit Brown for the remainder of the first half, acting head coach Cornell Mann said he wanted to save the Tigers’ best player for the second half.

“If you’re going to win the game, you gotta save him for the second half in hopes that he’ll come back out and play well and play without fouling and finish the game,” Mann said.

Foul trouble has been the one thing that has been able to consistently slow Brown down this season. Wednesday marked the sixth time in 13 games that he has played 30 minutes or fewer due to foul trouble. Boogie Coleman said the team has been on Brown about avoiding early whistles, but ultimately, it’s up to the rest of the roster to pick up the slack while he’s on the bench.

“We tried to get him to work on not doing it so much,” Coleman said. “Like the second foul, he was trying to fight around the post, I told him he could have just let him go because he’s got (Trevon Brazile) coming to help, and he’s going to rotate, help him out. But it is what it is. The game of basketball, foul trouble is going to happen. So we gotta be able to just carry our weight on the team.”

When Brown did return to the floor, he never found his footing on the offensive end. Brown, who entered Wednesday averaging 14.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, scored six points on just 2-9 shooting and grabbed three boards. He missed all three of his three-point attempts.

2. Missouri struggled to generate open looks around the rim. Even when the Tigers did so, they couldn’t convert.

Missouri’s 2-19 shooting stretch during the first half represented the low point of the night, but the Tigers could never find a rhythm on the offensive end. Missouri entered Wednesday ranked No. 355 out of 358 Division I teams in three-point percentage. Yet the Tigers attempted 25 shots from behind the arc against Kentucky. They made just five, lowering their three-point percentage to 23.8 on the year.

Mann said the game plan was to get the ball inside. And while Missouri struggled to do that, the Tigers also often failed to capitalize when they did get looks around the basket. Missouri shot 17-42 (40.5 percent) from two-point range, well below its season average of 48.7. It converted just 12 of 23 layup attempts.

“I thought maybe it was some times we probably could have been a little bit stronger with the ball in terms of finishing,” Mann said. “Maybe we got a few bumps here and there as we tried to finish. But that was the game plan, was to get to the paint, and we did that early, we just didn’t finish in the second half. We didn’t do a good job finishing inside.”

3. The most glaring difference between the two teams in the final box score came at the free-throw line. Kentucky attempted 26 free throws and made 22. Missouri shot just 10, making seven.

The Wildcats have been known to receive a friendly whistle inside Rupp Arena, and Mann expressed some frustration with the officiating after the game. He said that, had Martin been on the sideline, he “would have probably been a little more into the refs.”

But Mann also noted that Missouri did itself no favors in the foul department by committing a few cheap fouls on the defensive end and lacking aggression on offense. The Tigers got whistled for 23 fouls compared to 13 for Kentucky.

“We had some silly fouls that take a little bit of the air out of the ball for us and don’t allow you to be as confident and play with as much confidence as you would normally play,” Mann said. “So just gotta do a better job keeping ourself out of foul trouble.”

Whatever the reason for the foul disparity, Missouri didn’t attempt its first free throw until less than a minute remained in the first half. By that point, Kentucky was 10-12 from the line. Mann called that “really, really hard” to overcome.

“You can cry about it or whatever, but it happened,” he said. “It happened. And yes it’s really hard. And really there’s nothing you can do about that part.”

4. Missouri’s half-court defense wasn’t bad. But the Tigers gave Kentucky way too many easy opportunities in transition.

Kentucky scored 25 fast-break points compared to 10 for Missouri. Mann said Missouri’s initial game plan was to bother Kentucky with some on-ball pressure in the backcourt, but when the Wildcats exploited that early in the game, the Tigers backed off. Yet Kentucky was still able to generate easy scoring opportunities in transition.

“We started out the game jamming the ball, and then when they started to make a run, we took the jam off and just sprinted guys back,” said Mann. “… I thought that was the right thing to do, no doubt. They just did a great job of pushing the ball all the way down our throat, and I think our guys was busting to get back, we just didn’t get back and build the wall and cover it like we should.”

Mann singled out freshman point guard Anton Brookshire as a player who struggled on the defensive end. Most of Kentucky’s damage in transition was done by guards Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington, and Brookshire, who made his third career start, struggled to stay in front of both.

“I just think Anton has to really grow up defensively,” Mann said.

5. For most of the night, Mizzou did a decent job on the glass. But the dam broke in the second half.

Kentucky entered Wednesday ranked first nationally in both offensive rebounding and total rebounding rate. Mann said Tuesday that controlling the glass would be the top priority for the Tigers, saying his team would need to do an “elite” job of blocking out. For the first 30 minutes or so of the game, the rebounding margin remained fairly close. But Kentucky put the game away in part because of second-chance points.

Kentucky out-rebounded Missouri 30-15 in the second half. The Wildcats scored 12 second-chance points in the final 13 minutes of the game. Center Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky’s leader on the glass, finished the game with 20 rebounds. That marked the fourth 20-rebound performance of the season for Tshiebwe, who leads the nation on the boards.

Mann contended that Tshiebwe benefited from a loose whistle on the boards.

“I thought it was some times he was a little bit over-physical, both on the glass and offensively,” he said. “But hey, that’s the game, especially on the road.”

Star of the Game: If we had to pick one from the Missouri side, it would probably be Davis. The Green Bay transfer gave Missouri a spark when he came off the bench in the first half. He hit a contested three and made a savvy play when he stole Kentucky’s inbound pass and scored to give the Tigers their lone lead. Davis tied for a team high with 10 points despite shooting 3-10 from the field.

Room for Improvement: With Brown on the bench in the first half, Missouri’s reserve big men really struggled. Keita missed the rim on both of his shot attempts, one a put-back from about two feet and one an open three. Wilmore was worse. He played just 30 seconds before picking up his second foul and returning to the bench for the remainder of the game.

What it means: Not much. We already knew the Tigers struggle to measure up to top-25 caliber competition. If there’s a takeaway, it’s that Missouri should petition to never play in Rupp Arena again. The storied venue has been a house of horrors for the Tigers. Not only has Missouri never won at Kentucky, it has lost its past five games in Rupp by an average of 28.4 points.

Next up: Missouri will return to Mizzou Arena next Wednesday to host Mississippi State. The Bulldogs beat Arkansas by 13 points to open SEC play. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.

Quotable: “It’s going to be hard to win games if Kobe’s got six. It’s just going to be tough.” — Cornell Mann