COLUMBIA — Saturday's loss at Nebraska stung.
The frustration was clear as the Missouri players emerged from the locker room after the game. The Tigers straggled out one-by-one, walking silently with their shoulders slumped and their eyes locked on the floor as if they were scanning the linoleum for answers.
Several yards from the locker room door a group of Missouri fans gathered to ask players to take photos with them. Most of the Tigers stopped and mustered fake smiles for the camera.
But as soon as the flash went off, the happy looks vanished from players' faces, and the blank stares returned. Senior guard Matt Lawrence described the mood on the team's charter flight back to Columbia as "somber."
"It hit us pretty bad emotionally," senior forward DeMarre Carroll said. "That was probably the worst we played all year."
It was a game the Tigers felt they should have won. Missouri overcame an 18-point deficit to tie it with 1:42 to play but came up short in the end. To come so close to pulling off the improbable comeback made losing hurt that much more.
"We've only lost three games, but it seems like our season is lost," Carroll said. "That's a bright side because when you lose three games and it feels like your season is over, that means a lot of guys are passionate about winning."
Moving on from the emotional low of the loss is a delicate process. Missouri needs to regain its focus and composure quickly to be ready to play Colorado tonight at Mizzou Arena.
"You have to know that wasn't the end of our season," Lawrence said. "That's just one game. We have 15 more to play, and we have to continue to get better."
But the Tigers also don't want to completely forget about the loss. Starting point guard Zaire Taylor said the Tigers need to remember how badly the loss hurt, so they will work hard to avoid that feeling in the future.
"Right now the feelings that I have for my teammates and the looks I see in their eyes practicing, I see passion in their eyes," Taylor said. "The question is how long that passion is going to last for."
After losing to Illinois in the Braggin' Rights game, Taylor said Missouri used its emotion from the loss as motivation for a four-game winning streak, including a road win at Georgia. But then Taylor said the Tigers lost track of their hunger.
This time Taylor hopes Missouri can carry its emotional edge through the rest of the season.
"You can't cry about it every night. We got more games," Taylor said. "You've got to remember your mistakes. How else can you correct them if you don't remember them?"
Missouri will be without second-leading scorer and rebounder Leo Lyons for tonight's game, increasing the difficulty of making the necessary corrections from the Nebraska loss.
Coach Mike Anderson suspended Lyons indefinitely following his arrest during a traffic stop last Sunday night. According to Anderson, police stopped Lyons when he did not have the lights of his vehicle turned on. Lyons also failed to display proof of insurance. Anderson said that police then learned there was a warrant for Lyons stemming from an unpaid traffic ticket from 2006.
Lyons will not play against Colorado, and his status for the Tigers' contest against Iowa State on Saturday will be determined later in the week.
Either Keith Ramsey or Justin Safford will likely take Lyons' place in tonight's starting lineup. Lawrence said he is confident the team's other big men will step up without Lyons.
"Hopefully those guys are looking forward to the challenge," Anderson said.
With Lyons missing from the interior, there might be some extra pressure on starting guards Taylor and J.T. Tiller to contribute offensively. Taylor has shown a tendency to pass before looking for his shot, but he scored 17 points at Georgia, showing he can be a capable scorer.
"I think we have guys that are going to play a lot different than they did in Nebraska," Lawrence said. "Zaire and J.T. are going to attack the basket a lot more."
Another key for Missouri against Colorado will be pushing the ball on the fastbreak, which is something it failed to do in Nebraska while scoring just 18 points in the first half.
The slow pace allowed Nebraska to double down on Carroll and Lyons in the post. Carroll said he had never seen double and triple teams like that before.
"If we can get it up and down the court, they won't have a chance to really double team us or triple team us," Carroll said. "I think we just need to focus more on our defense and allow our defense to get us easy buckets."