Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Tonight, the Missouri men’s basketball team plays its first game at Mizzou Arena since Nov. 15, when the Tigers beat Maryland Eastern Shore to start the year 2-0.
The 15 days between the games didn’t exactly go swimmingly for the Tigers.
Missouri lost once on the road, to Xavier, and twice in neutral-site games in Kansas City, to Kansas State and Northwestern.
Missouri (2-3) hopes to snap that streak tonight against Arkansas State (8 p.m., SEC Network). The game is the first of three at home for Missouri before the Tigers play Arizona on the road.
“I do consider them must-win games,” freshman forward Kevin Puryear said, “because those would be great for our confidence going into Tucson.”
The Tigers’ three losses came in different-sized packages.
There was the good one — a 78-66 loss to Xavier, which is now ranked 12th in the AP Top 25 and has beaten No. 24 Michigan in Ann Arbor and Dayton by 31.
There was the bad one — a 66-42 loss to Kansas State, in which Missouri shot 30.9 percent from the field and failed to score a point off a turnover until the final minute.
And then there was the other one — a some-good, some-bad 67-62 loss to Northwestern, in which the losing streak reached three despite Missouri’s cutting a 20-point first-half lead to three.
“We went on the road and played Xavier and really played them pretty well, and I don’t know how much basketball you followed over the weekend, but … they’re pretty good,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I think the stinker game was Kansas State. I just don’t think we played (well).
“Northwestern, we did a better job of later in the game. But, 2-3, we probably should (be) 3-2 — hopefully we’d be 5-0 — but hopefully we’d be 3-2. But we’re not, so there’s nothing that you can do about it, but I don’t sense it will be anything like it was a year ago.”
A year ago, meaning the Tigers’ 9-23 season that included a 13-game losing streak in Anderson’s first year.
The Tigers say the losing streak doesn’t have them flashing back to last year. It helps that some of their main contributors weren’t even in college then.
“This isn’t last year’s team,” freshman Terrence Phillips said. “This is an entirely different team, so last year happened, last year’s gone. This is a new season, and we’ve just got to rebuild from here.”
Phillips said playing with enthusiasm will help Missouri avoid that “here we go again” mentality.
“We all have to bring it, and I started to really see it in the (Northwestern) game,” he said. “We had guys on the bench screaming and yelling, and that’s what I love, and that’s what our team has to be, and I think that’s what we’re going to be from here on out.”
The Tigers trailed Northwestern 31-11 just 12 minutes into the third-place game of the CBE Classic. Anderson said there was a bit of a hangover from the blowout loss to Kansas State the night before.
“It kind of looked like (Northwestern coach Chris) Collins was doing one of those instructional videos, and his team needed a team to kind of play defense against them to make it look good,” he said. “and I thought we were that team.”
Phillips said the beating the night before contributed to the slow start against Northwestern.
“That entire day of that Northwestern game, everybody was kind of quiet,” he said. “I think everybody was still kind of in shock and upset about the whole thing. We feel like we got embarrassed. And then we called timeout with about seven minutes to go in the first half, and things just kind of turned around for us, and that carried on into the second half, so we’ve just go to play like that all the time.”
The Tigers hope not to need another comeback effort tonight.
“I think we need to exceed intensity, not just match it,” Puryear said. “Instead of getting hit in the mouth first, we need to throw the first punch, so that’s going to be our focal point (today).”
Arkansas State (2-4) is led by junior guard Devin Carter (6-foot-5) and junior forward Anthony Livingston (6-8), who each average 15 points per game, with Livingston adding 9.8 rebounds per game. Anderson pointed out the Sun Belt squad has five left-handed players on its roster, tied with Oakland for most in the nation.
Arkansas State has yet to win an away game, falling at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Savannah State, Oregon and Baylor. The Red Wolves’ wins came at home against NAIA school Lyon College and Jackson State.