Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — In its three Southeastern Conference losses, the Missouri men’s basketball team has allowed an average of eight points before getting on the scoreboard itself.
The worst of those starts came in the Tigers’ SEC opener at Georgia, which was in double figures before Missouri put a ball through the basket. Missouri (8-9, 1-3 SEC) gets a shot at righting that course today in a rematch with the Bulldogs, this time at home (6 p.m., SECN).
“We have to quit spotting teams 10 points and then trying to catch up,” coach Kim Anderson said. “That doesn’t certainly enhance our opportunities to win.”
In non-conference games, Missouri often had the opposite problem, getting out to big leads and then allowing opponents like Arkansas State and Omaha to creep back. In the SEC, though, the Tigers have mostly put themselves behind the 8 ball, a place they can’t afford to be if they hope to improve on last season’s 3-15 conference performance.
Anderson hasn’t quite figured out the problem.
“Boy, I wish I had the answer,” he said. “I know I’m getting paid to have the answer. We’ve tried a lot of different things, the way you warm up to what you eat to even scripted plays. … We know what we want to do, but when we get out there sometimes, the other team takes something away and we have to adjust, and that just comes with playing. Hopefully, we can avoid these things, because we’ve had several.”
That was the case Jan. 6 in Athens, Ga.
“The first two plays they ran, four hours earlier we had gone through them and the day before and the day before that,” Anderson said. “It’s carrying over what you do in practice to what you need to do in a game. Some of that’s mental focus, I guess, is a word you would use.”
Missouri’s slow start against Georgia (9-6, 2-3) was made worse by a hot start by Yante Maten, who scored 11 straight points for the Bulldogs. Maten, a sophomore who averaged just five points per game last year, leads Georgia with 15.9 points per game this season.
“He’s a good player,” said Puryear, who defended Maten for much of the first matchup. Maten finished with 15 points after his early scoring flurry. “I learned that I have to meet him early because he’s really strong. I have to meet him early and keep him off the block, so that’s probably going to be our focal point going into this game.”
Tonight’s game will be Missouri’s first rematch of the season. The Bulldogs won the first meeting 77-59.
“We’ve got some vengeance that we need to redeem ourselves with,” junior guard Wes Clark said.
The Tigers bounced back from the loss at Georgia with a defeat of Auburn, but things got ugly three days later when Arkansas — propelled by a 6-0 start — defeated Missouri by 33 at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers rebounded from that loss, and the announcement of self-imposed sanctions the following day, with a strong road performance at No. 19 South Carolina. Still, the Tigers let the Gamecocks score the game’s first eight points and fell 81-72.
“I mean, we have a scout team, so I don’t know if we actually hold South Carolina to the standard of the scout team, but we can’t do that,” Puryear said. “We have to come out and execute better in the games and even though there was a lot of variables why we didn’t win the South Carolina game, we only lost by (nine) points.”
Clark scored 26 points in that game, setting a career high for the third time this season.
“As one of the older guys, I try to lead these guys not only with scoring but in every aspect, with rebounding, assists, playing hard for real,” Clark said, “so they’re just going to follow suit. We’ve got a great group of guys that like learning.”
Clark has scored double-digits in four of his last six games and 20 or more in three of them.
“Having confidence in my shot (helps),” he said. “Knowing that the next shot is going in, whether it’s a make or a miss.”