Tim Abromaitis was happy to be back on the floor, where he belongs.
He just wasn't happy with the result.
The fifth-year senior returned from a four-game suspension to score 22 points for Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish couldn't slow down the fast-paced attack of No. 21 Missouri in an 87-58 loss Monday night that was decided long before the final buzzer.
Abromaitis thought his career had come to a close when the NCAA ruled that two exhibition games he had played in before redshirting as a sophomore exhausted that season's eligibility. He was eventually granted an extra year when Notre Dame's coaches appealed, arguing that they had misinterpreted an NCAA bylaw, but the ruling meant Abromaitis had to sit out the first four games of the season.
He looked as though he hadn't missed any time against the Tigers.
Abromaitis was 9 of 18 from the field and added three assists, trying his best to get the rest of the young Fighting Irish involved. He just didn't find enough help, and the Tigers used a 16-2 run that spanned halftime to put the game away.
''It felt good for a couple possessions,'' Abromaitis said. ''It's nice to be back playing, but they're a great team. It's kind of like being thrown into the fire.''
Marcus Denmon scored 26 points, Phil Pressey added 17 and Ricardo Ratliffe had 12 for the Tigers (4-0), who shot 63.3 percent from the field while building a 52-37 lead by halftime. Missouri scored the first six points out of the break to punch its ticket to the championship game.
''We played great tonight,'' first-year Tigers coach Frank Haith said. ''It's just one game, but we played very well.''
The Tigers will play the winner of No. 20 California and Georgia on Tuesday night, while the Fighting Irish face the loser in the third-place game.
''The good thing is that we don't have to wait around,'' Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. ''We can put the uniform right back on.''
Abromaitis is especially grateful to have that opportunity.
''If there's a silver lining, Tim came back and he didn't miss a beat,'' Brey said. ''Hopefully for him, he's back in a rhythm and we can keep him going.''
Playing just a couple hours' drive from its campus in Columbia, the Tigers had the decided home-court advantage at the Sprint Center - and they gave their fans plenty of reasons to cheer.
They hit their first four shots, at one point in the first half had six assists to zero turnovers, and put together their highest-scoring half of the season with 3:10 left in the first.
The Irish (4-1) struggled to slow down the Tigers' four-guard offense, which pressured them mercilessly on defense and turned just about every turnover into a fast-break basket at the other end.
''We knew we were a lot smaller than them,'' Pressey said. ''It worked to our advantage.''
Denmon made everything happen, scoring on an assortment of runners, fadeaway jumpers and spot-up 3-pointers in a virtuoso performance. He scored seven straight for the Tigers during one stretch in the first half, putting Notre Dame in an early double-digit hole.
Notre Dame tried to mount a comeback behind Abromaitis, whose three-point play with 5:27 left in the first half got the Irish within 37-29. His bucket a couple of minutes later made it 42-35.
That's when the Tigers went on their 16-2 run spanning halftime.
English started it with a 3-pointer, Pressey converted a three-point play moments later and Denmon hit a jumper to make it 50-35. Abromaitis made a couple free throws to briefly halt the run before halftime, but the Tigers picked up right where they left off.
Denmon scored right out of the break, Michael Dixon added a basket and Ratliffe's bucket with 17:29 left made it 58-37 and prompted Brey to call a timeout. It didn't do much good, and the senior-laden Tigers put it on cruise control the rest of the way.
''It was a seven-point game. That's how fragile the game is,'' Brey said. ''They made a three-point play and then you're hanging on for dear life. We were flustered, and we were rushed. That's to Missouri's credit. They came at us with pressure.''