Missouri basketball struggles with shock of consecutive losses

Friday, December 4, 2009 | 4:23 p.m. CST; updated 8:40 p.m. CST, Friday, December 4, 2009
MU senior guard J.T. Tiller drives past UT Martin's Delrico Lane in the second half of the Tigers' game against the Skyhawks on Nov. 17 at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers won the game 83-68.

COLUMBIA - The mood on the Missouri men’s basketball team is far different from when they left for the South Padre Invitational last week.

Before the Tigers left for island paradise in Texas, the team was full of confidence. It was 3-0 and was fresh off setting a school record for steals. Now however, after two straight losses to Richmond and Vanderbilt, the mood in the locker is a, “little less chipper,” according to sophomore guard Kim English.

“Coach always says, ‘Enjoy winning until midnight, and losses hurt until midnight,’ English said. “I guess figuratively we’re over the loss, but literally we’re not.”

For everyone but senior J.T. Tiller and junior Justin Safford, this is their first real taste of losing. Last year’s team only lost seven games, but never back-to-back games. So Tiller said it is up to the seniors to make sure the team doesn’t get too down on itself and keep the season in perspective.

“The older guys got to keep the younger guys mentally strong, and let them know we are only six games deep and got a long road ahead of us,” Tiller said.

English said Tiller and some of the other captains told him not to blame himself for the loss against Vanderbilt because they win and lose as a team. English had missed a contested three-point shot near the end of a close game against the Commodores. Tiller, who has experienced a 16-16 season, said after losses it is important to be more united.

“We’re still a team and we have to band together more than ever,” Tiller said. “Everybody is against us pretty much, every team doesn’t care that we lost to them, they want to beat us again.”

As tough as these losses are for a young team, English said it will be OK if the players learn a lesson from it. He cited losses to Xavier and Nebraska last year as integral learning experiences to teach them how to win. Tiller said the team knows it needs to be tougher on the boards and play stronger in the paint. Missouri was outscored by 12 points in the paint against Vanderbilt, and gave Vanderbilt plenty of second-chance opportunities.

“We can’t take anything for granted and can’t read anybody’s jerseys. We have to play tougher and make smart plays down the stretch,” Tiller said.

Missouri is going to have to rebound quickly because it plays  an improved Oregon Ducks team Saturday at Mizzou Arena as a part of the Big 12-Pac 10 challenge. The game will be a chance for the Tigers to extend their non-conference home win-streak to 34. However, it won’t be easy against Oregon. The Ducks were an abysmal 8-22 last season, but are already 4-2 this season. Tiller said he is not underestimating the opponent despite last year’s statistics.

“They have some people coming back and they’re coming off a rough year, so they will be out there to prove a point,” Tiller said.

Oregon is a guard-oriented team, and its top three scorers are guards, which means Missouri won’t have to deal with a dominant center like its last game. However, English said he needs to look at more tape before deciding where the team plans to attack Oregon. But all he wants to do is get back to winning.

“The season’s far from over,” English said. “So we just got to get back on track and get this bad taste out of our mouth.”


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