NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Most of the stadium was silent, because most of the stadium was empty. The few scattered blobs of Missouri fans that made the trip to Nashville smiled and cheered, their black and gold T-shirts a stark contrast from the backs of the vacant blue chairs.
The buzzer sounded and Frank Haith was the first to shake hands with the opposing team, his players following suit with nonchalant expressions on their faces.
SEC tournament quarterfinals
vs. Missouri (23-9)
WHEN: 9 p.m.
WHERE: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: KMIZ/Channel 17
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 & 103.1 FM
On Thursday, the Missouri men’s basketball team beat Texas A&M 62-50 in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The win pushes Missouri’s neutral court record to 4-1 this season, an important factor when you consider who its next opponent will be.
The Ole Miss Rebels.
In January, Missouri was blown out 64-49 against the Rebels. Then ranked No. 10 in the nation, the Tigers turned over the ball 19 times, attempted only six free throws, were outrebounded 33 to 31 and shot 36.8 percent in the hostile Oxford, Miss., environment. Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway dominated Missouri with 22 points and eight rebounds, and held Alex Oriakhi to only four points.
A month later, it was a completely different scene.
The Rebels traveled to Columbia only to get trounced by the Tigers 98-79. Missouri shot 47.3 percent, went to the foul line 20 times, had only nine turnovers in the game, and outrebounded Ole Miss 48 to 24 in a rowdy Mizzou Arena atmosphere. Oriakhi paired 22 points with eight rebounds, and limited Holloway to only seven points and one rebound.
“If we play well defensively, rebound and limit them (Ole Miss) to tough shots, and play solid on the offensive end, that’s the key to victory,” Missouri guard Keion Bell said following Thursday’s victory.
Bell scored 21 points against the Rebels in the Tigers' win last month.
The Rebels finished the season with a 23-8 record, and were 12-6 in conference play. They were seeded No. 3 in the conference tournament, earning a double-bye and an opportunity to scout the Tigers in their win Thursday night before the two play for the third time at 9 p.m. Friday in Nashville.
But if the environment was anything like it was Thursday, the two teams will be playing without their home court crowds.
"I think it's going to take a team effort," Haith said following Thursday's game. "Ole Miss is a good basketball team. For us to beat them, we have to be at our best."