Tournament presents new challenges for Tigers

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:51 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 13, 2009
Mike Anderson talks to Leo Lyons during practice in Oklahoma City. The Tigers get a bye Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament.

COLUMBIA — At 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the Missouri men's basketball team will take the floor for a quarterfinal game in the Big 12 Conference Tournament at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.

No. 14 Missouri has a bye in the first round after finishing third in the conference standings at 12-4.

None of the Tigers have ever advanced past the first round before. The second day of the tournament will be a new experience for freshmen and seniors alike.

Matt Lawrence, who along with Leo Lyons are the longest tenured Tigers, said he doesn't know what he is going to do on Wednesday while the conference's bottom eight teams play.

"It's my first bye night. It's exciting." Lawrence said.

Missouri coach Mike Anderson said he has no idea how his team will respond to the bye.

"This is a new basketball team. This is a team unlike any team I had my first two years," Anderson said. "We'll find out."

All season, Anderson has looked to his seniors for leadership. After each loss, even if it was the young players who struggled, Anderson placed the blame with his leaders. They were the ones who knew what to expect.

"I think that's the neat thing about freshmen, especially when they play for me, they don't have that pressure," Anderson said. "They can go at their own pace. Why? Because they should have some guys that are out there leading them."

But now, none of the Tigers know what to expect, though the seniors say they are ready for the challenge.

"I'm sure the atmosphere isn't that much different," Lyons said. "We've been in some harsh atmospheres so I'm pretty sure we can take it."

Missouri is 18-0 this season in Mizzou Arena, where the Tigers feed off the crowd for energy to fuel their pressure defense. But Missouri is just 7-6 away from home this season.

Poor starts, especially defensively, have plagued Missouri in its losses.

With every game in the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament played on a neutral court, the Tigers need to find another source of energy to start games.

Missouri's first game in the Big 12 Tournament will be against the winner of Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Texas A&M is the only team in the conference that Missouri didn't beat at least once this season.

With the disappointment of Saturday's loss to the Aggies still fresh in their minds, Missouri players said they were eager for a rematch.

Lawrence sounded still bitter about allowing the Aggies to shoot 62 percent.

"I'd like a little bit maybe to (play) A&M because they've just beaten us, and I'd like another crack at them," Lawrence said. "It would be nice to get them in a neutral site, not on their senior night when they're hitting every shot they take."

Asked who he would rather play, DeMarre Carroll looked conflicted. He broke into a smile and chuckled a few times. He stared off into space for a moment. It seemed like he wanted to say Texas A&M, but then thought better of it.

"Nah. Whoever we get, we're on a mission and we're not having no setbacks," Carroll said.

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