Missouri men’s basketball had a prime opportunity Saturday afternoon to show just how much of a leap it’s made since scoring only 45 points in a humbling loss at Mississippi State about six weeks ago.


All things considered, the Tigers proved a much stronger adversary for the Bulldogs this time around.


But it still wasn’t enough for Missouri to come away victorious.


Mississippi State, fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid, held off a late charge by the Tigers to secure a 67-63 victory in front of a crowd of 10,397 at Mizzou Arena. The Bulldogs improve to 19-10 overall and 10-6 in Southeastern Conference play, while Missouri falls to 14-15 overall and 6-10 in conference.


"Down the stretch, we tied it up, but they made plays and I thought our shot selection got us in the end," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.


After trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half, Missouri roared back to tie the game at 53 on a Xavier Pinson floater with 8:54 remaining.


Mississippi State responded to score the next six points, however, to rebuild a lead it never relinquished.


Dru Smith’s aggressive drive to the basket pulled Missouri within 63-61 with 1:59 left, but after the Tigers made a defensive stand, Smith missed a 3-point attempt and Mississippi State’s Tyson Carter answered with a soft touch on the other end to put the Bulldogs up four.


"We just had to take better shots," Smith said. "We probably had about 10 possessions after the under-four and three or four of them were bad shots. We just can’t have that. Coach Martin even said in that last media timeout, ‘From here on out, we’ve got to have good shots.’ And it didn’t happen."


The Tigers, playing on Leap Day for the first time since joining the SEC, never got any closer.


All eight players to see the court for Mississippi State in the first half made at least one field goal as the visitors took a 41-34 lead into the break.


After combining for two points in 53 minutes during the Tigers’ 72-45 loss Jan. 14 in Starkville, Pinson and Smith netted 39 on Saturday for Martin’s improved squad. Pinson scored a game-high 20.


Carter led Mississippi State with 15 points, while Nick Weatherspoon and Reggie Perry each had 12.


Perry, who posted 23 points and 10 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting, shot 4 of 11 from the field and corralled six rebounds Saturday against a committee of Tiger defenders who held the SEC player of the year candidate mostly in check.


The Bulldogs entered the day listed by ESPN among the "first four out" for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.


"I’m just incredibly proud of our team, the way we performed today in a very difficult environment," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. "Missouri is playing so well. … They’ll be in the NCAA Tournament next year."


The game started well for Missouri. Reed Nikko blocked a shot on the Bulldogs’ first possession and Pinson converted a layup at the other end. Pinson also made a 3-pointer and drew a charge in the first six minutes, while back-to-back triples from Smith helped the Tigers take a 16-15 lead midway through the first half.


Perry and the Bulldogs did not back down. Perry’s putback after two offensive rebounds and a subsequent free throw gave Mississippi State a 22-18 lead, part of a 13-4 run for the visitors. Robert Woodard II and Carter provided 3s during the spree.


Mississippi State opened up a 30-22 lead with 5:17 left until halftime and grew its first-half advantage as large as 10 before a Pinson 3-pointer in the final minute pulled Missouri to within seven at halftime.


Smith and Pinson led the Tigers’ comeback effort out of the break. Smith dove to the corner of the court to secure a loose ball on the defensive end. Pinson then drilled a 3 to trim Missouri’s deficit to 43-40.


Mississippi State responded by scoring the next eight points, opening up a 51-40 lead with 12:17 remaining — the largest lead of the game.


But Missouri wasn’t done just yet.


Fueled by four points from Jeremiah Tilmon — playing for the first time at home since Dec. 15 — and a three-point play by Pinson, the Tigers roared on a 9-0 run to pull back within two.


After expending great energy to work the score to a tie at 53, however, the Tigers never got over the hump. Weatherspoon’s 3 with 4:32 remaining gave the Bulldogs room to breathe at 62-55.


Pinson and Smith tag-teamed for Missouri’s final 14 points in the losing effort.


"It’s only on us. I feel like we let them do what they wanted to do. They were comfortable the whole game," Pinson said. "We’ve just got to get back in the gym and work way harder so next time it won’t happen again."


Missouri committed only eight turnovers and held a 36-30 edge in rebounds in the game, led by Smith with nine and Kobe Brown with seven. The Bulldogs entered as the fourth-best rebounding team in the SEC.


Missouri shot 6 of 29 from beyond the arc, including 0-for-12 for everyone aside from Smith and Pinson. Mississippi State shot 53% (25 of 47) from the field compared to 37% (22 of 60) for Missouri.


Tilmon, who has missed a majority of conference play due to a stress fracture in his left foot, finished with seven points in 21 minutes. Mark Smith, also on the mend and playing in his first game in Columbia since Jan. 28, joined Tilmon in entering off the bench but didn’t score in 13 minutes.


Mitchell Smith posted 10 points for Missouri but fouled out with 4:44 remaining.


Missouri is scheduled to return to action on the road Wednesday night against Mississippi. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. on SEC Network.