COLUMBIA — Missouri coach Mike Anderson suspended five key players before the men’s basketball team played Nebraska on Jan. 30.
With seven players, six on scholarship and one a walk-on, Missouri held close for 38 minutes but eventually fell 66-62.
“With everyone in the squad, if everyone was here… I think we would have got them,” said guard Matt Lawrence.
But really, just one or two players could have made the difference.
It wouldn’t be Stefhon Hannah. The team’s point guard and leading scorer was dismissed from the team on Tuesday for breaking team rules. He was arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault Friday in connection to a fight outside a local nightclub that left him with a broken jaw and had missed more than two weeks of class while he was recovering at home in Chicago.
But maybe Leo Lyons, for example. At 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, Lyons is Missouri’s biggest and tallest player. Without him, 6-foot-8, 225 pound DeMarre Carroll was Missouri’s top choice to guard Aleks Maric, Nebraska’s 6-foot-11, 275 pound center, one of the Big 12 Conference’s most dangerous low-post players.
In the last game, Maric scored most of his 13 points on open tip-ins under the basket because no Missouri player could get inside to defend him. Seven of his team-high 13 rebounds were on the offensive side.
“He’s big around the basket, hopefully he (Leo) stays in front of Maric and just makes him shoot over him, make Maric shoot some tough shots,” guard Matt Lawrence said. “If you keep a guy in front of him, between him and the basket, it just makes it that much harder for him.”
Lyons knows how much the Tigers will need him tonight. While sitting on the bench last time, Lyons studied Nebraska, trying to find Maric’s weaknesses.
“I mean he is a big dude, so you’ve got to play smart,” Lyons said. “You can’t just try to outmuscle him because he is obviously going to win that one. He is probably one of the strongest guys in our league.”
Lyons said he will use his quickness to get around Maric and open up the game for his teammates.
“I think I can get their big guys moving around,” Lyons said. “And I think that will keep him off the paint and allow us to drive more, run more.”
Lyons also knows that he is going to have a lot more help than Carroll did. Forwards Marshall Brown and Darryl Butterfield have also since returned from suspension.
“It’s just more bodies,” Lyons said. “Those guys were tired trying to guard him the whole game, trying to chase him around and keep him off the boards. So we’ll rotate people and keep fresh people attacking him.”
Brown has played against Maric in each of the past four years.
“You’ve just got to stay in front of him and any time he gets the ball, double him,” Brown said. “He tries to bury you down low and if you let him get it down low, he’s pretty much going to score every time.”
Before five players were suspended — two were also arrested — Missouri had won its first road game of the year at Colorado. Since then, Missouri has gone 1-3. At practice on Monday, Brown was well aware that a win over Nebraska last time around would have Missouri sixth in the Big 12 right now. Instead, Missouri (13-11 overall, 3-6 Big 12) is 10th.
But not all is lost. With five conference teams stuck on three wins, a win tonight could move Missouri as high as sixth in the Big 12.
“This is an opportunity to separate us from the three-win teams and put us right in the middle of the pack,” Brown said. “I feel like we are one of those teams that could still do some damage. There’s a lot of basketball games left and a lot can happen in those seven games.”