COLUMBIA — After its embarrassing loss to Illinois in the Braggin' Rights Game in St. Louis, the Missouri men's basketball team had to regroup.
One obvious problem for the Tigers was a lack of leadership. Once Illinois sprinted ahead of Missouri, there was no one to bring the team together or help the younger players settle down.
Missouri (13-2, 0-0) at Nebraska (10-3, 0-0)
WHEN: 1 p.m.
WHERE: Bob Devaney Center, Lincoln, Neb.
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
The Tigers could never mount a charge.
Coach Mike Anderson addressed the need for leadership with senior starters DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence after the game. At the first practice following the loss, the three seniors met in private.
"Me, DeMarre and Leo talked about how we didn't have any senior leadership that game," Lawrence said. "We tried to put the blame on us, because none of us really showed up and had a good game."
As the team's three leading scorers, those seniors need to perform at a high level for Missouri to be successful. But Anderson told them that leadership goes beyond playing well.
"It's like Coach said, you can lead by example, but a true leader is verbal," Carroll said.
When the Tigers traveled to Georgia last Saturday for their first game in an opponent's arena this season, the seniors stepped up.
Before the game, they explained to the freshmen what it would be like to play on the road. The seniors warned the freshmen not to let the hostile environment disrupt them from playing as a team.
"This is our fourth year playing and we know what it's like to go on the road or into a hostile environment, and we know what we have to do to win there," Lawrence said.
The Tigers played from behind for most of the first half before taking a four-point lead at halftime. Lawrence, Carroll and Lyons cautioned their teammates against relaxing with the lead.
The seniors had seen teams come out in the second half and make big runs against the Tigers in the past. They wanted the Georgia game to be different.
When Georgia took the lead early in the second half by packing its defense in on Carroll and Lyons, Carroll told junior point guard Zaire Taylor, who usually doesn't look for his shot, to be more aggressive. Taylor scored 13 points in the second half to help Missouri win.
"I think me, Matt and Leo stepped up to the plate and we led this group of freshmen," Carroll said. "When adversity hit, coach said leaders got to step up, and I thought we did a good job."
That leadership will be even more important when the Tigers open Big 12 Conference play at Nebraska on Saturday.
"This is going to be something these guys have never seen, our younger players," Lawrence said. "Even (playing) a team that is in the last half of the Big 12, going on the road is still really, really hard to win."
Lawrence remembers the first conference road game of his career, a two-point upset of then-No. 22 Oklahoma. Lawrence played six minutes and made his only three-point attempt.
Despite the win, Lawrence remembers being overwhelmed by the atmosphere. The win over Oklahoma was the Tigers' only road win in conference that season.
"I was surprised to see how different it is playing at home than it is on the road," Lawrence said. "Sometimes we look like a different team on the road and guys go their separate ways."
Lawrence hopes he can help his five freshmen teammates make a smoother transition to playing meaningful conference road games than he did. He said the important thing is to let the freshmen know what to expect, so they won't be caught completely off guard.
"We've got mature freshmen," Carroll said. "I don't consider them freshmen anymore. I consider them sophomores with half the season over."
The Georgia game gave the team a pretty good model of how road games are won.
"The way we came together in Georgia is the way we need to come together in all these games in Big 12 and hopefully that's what we do," Lawrence said.