COLUMBIA — The Missouri men’s basketball team has developed a new approach.
The Tigers rely on the loud and raucous cheers of their home fans to fuel their relentless defense and high-speed offense making them feel as invincible as Superman. However, opponent’s arenas have been like kryptonite, and Missouri has gone 0-2 on the road this season.
Missouri (13-3, 1-0 Big 12)
at Texas Tech (12-3, 0-1 Big 12)
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: United Spirit Arena, Lubbock, Texas
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM. KBXR/102.3 FM
That is why coach Mike Anderson is trying a different tactic for his team’s road trip that begins Wednesday at Texas Tech and ends Saturday against Oklahoma. Rather than tuning out the cheers of the hostile crowds, he wants the Tigers to pretend the cheers are for them.
“We need to look at it as if their fans are rooting for us because it is obvious that we feed off our crowd here,” Missouri forward Laurence Bowers said. “So if we do that and come out with lots of energy, I think we’ll be OK."
In Missouri's first road loss this season, Vanderbilt outrebounded the Tigers 47-26 and Commodores center A.J. Ogilvy scored a season-high 25 points. In its second loss at Oral Roberts, Missouri was forced into an uncomfortably slow tempo against a team that had only seven scholarship players available. The Tigers looked nothing like the team they are at home.
“In our losses on the road, we came out flat and picked it up toward the end,” Bowers said. “A lot of times we let the other team dictate the pace and that always comes back to bite us.”
The problem hasn’t been talent or skill, but adjusting to the atmosphere of road games. Without a home crowd to spur them on, Missouri is averaging just 69.6 points away from Mizzou Arena.
“I think it is more mental than anything else when you play on the road,” Anderson said. “You’re facing a hostile environment, you got the officials, you got the crowd, it’s just different. And as a player you realize that.”
To reverse those trends, Missouri has taken to scrimmaging with as few fouls called as possible. The goal is to teach the Tigers to continue to their relentless and pesky defense even when things don’t go their way. Missouri guard Marcus Denmon said he thinks that approach will mentally prepare the team for the hostility it will face on the road.
“We are an attacking team ... we aren’t going to get every call,” Denmon said. “So what you want to do is stay positive and play through it.”
Missouri’s J.T. Tiller has also assumed a leadership role acting almost as another coach. Because he is one of two Tigers to have played in every stadium in the Big 12 Conference, Tiller said he knows what the team needs to do to be ready for the road. The already intense Tiller has increased his energy and effort in practice to simulate the Big 12 atmosphere.
“I think it helps from the aspect of being able to get the team ready for what’s coming ahead,” Tiller said. “Just knowing the environment playing on the road in the Big 12 and you just have to have a strong mental game to play in these types of atmospheres.”
Texas Tech (12-3, 0-1) has proved to be a tough place for Missouri (13-3, 1-0) to play. The Tigers have just one win in seven tries at Lubbock, Texas, and haven’t won there since 2000. This year, the Red Raiders are undefeated at home and are off to its fastest start under coach Pat Knight. Anderson said because Missouri beat them twice last year, once at home and once in the Big 12 tournament, the Red Raiders will be out for revenge.
“I think it will be a tremendous test for us because we get out of the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena,” Anderson said. “They have experienced what we experienced on the road, so I’m sure they’re ready to get home and play good basketball.”
Despite the difficulty the Tigers will face on this road trip, Anderson said the key to winning will be whether the Tigers can keep the games close and limit turnovers. He said the team will need to rely on the experience of seniors Tiller, Keith Ramsey and Zaire Taylor to maintain its poise.
However, as difficult as the road may be, it also offers a chance for the team to bond and find out if it will be competitive in the Big 12.
“It’s a thin line between winning and losing already, but on the road it really gets thin,” Anderson said. “But you find out more about the make up of your team, whether they have the grit to withstand the runs and withstand teams coming out and giving them their best shot.”