Take it from AJ: It’s not the coaching staff, offensive scheme or defensive difficulties that are responsible for Missouri’s lackluster first month.
It is much simpler than that.
“It’s us; we’re (the ones) out there playing,” center Arthur Johnson said. “We just have to get better.”
One month and one day after Missouri made its 2003-04 debut, the team’s success is more in doubt than it was before the season began. The Tigers hope to end 2003, and their two-game losing streak, on a winning note against Belmont at 7 p.m. today at Hearnes Center.
The No. 23 Tigers (4-3) could use a home game to soothe their road woes. Three of their five trips out of Columbia have yielded losses and the start of Big 12 Conference play is a week away.
The Bruins (5-3) might provide some reassurance for the slumping Tigers.
Missouri’s three losses have come by 10 points, and all of its games have been decided by nine points or fewer.
The Tigers want to break the latter trend today. Johnson said he was confident the team’s pattern of close defeats would reverse itself soon.
“We just have to keep coming every day,” he said. “We’ll get better and start winning these close games instead of losing them.”
Turnovers continue to plague the Tigers, a problem that grows increasingly troublesome in tight games. Missouri is last in the Big 12 in turnovers, committing 17.6 per game. Missouri is also one of two conference teams (Colorado is the other) to commit more turnovers than it has forced.
The lack of an established point guard has been a factor, but coach Quin Snyder said he thought his players have been pushing too hard to make the perfect play.
“Part of it for us is not feeling like (an individual) has to make a scoring play, (but) as five guys working together to break them down and generate a good shot,” he said. “Our whole team needs to be more efficient.”
Despite a difficult nonconference schedule, a few breaks in Missouri’s favor could have sent the Tigers into tonight’s game with a perfect record. Snyder said his team must not lament the close losses and remain focused on winning.
After a 71-70 loss to Illinois on Dec. 23, Snyder noted that it takes the Tigers several possessions to overcome minor adversities, such as a missed free throw or a questionable foul. He reiterated that after Saturday’s 61-59 loss at Memphis.
“We can’t all of a sudden start searching the stars for what the answers are,” he said. “The answers are right here. They become apparent to our team, and even more to us as a staff, when you play these types of games.”
The players said the coaching staff has remained constructive after losses, stressing the positives of each player’s performance. Forward Travon Bryant, whose 14.4 points per game is one of Missouri’s few early highlights, said that reassurance has helped the team, but he does not want to hear much more of it.
“That’s a good feeling, but we as players want that to change as quickly as possible,” he said. “We just have to take responsibility for how we all do out there.”
Missouri will need to be active defensively to limit Belmont, which averages 27 3-point attempts, second most in the NCAA. The Bruins made 17-of-38 and tested Memphis defensively in an 89-83 loss on Dec. 17.
Senior forward Adam Mark was named the Atlantic Sun Conference’s Player of the Week on Dec. 1 and averages 19.8 points to lead the team.
Wins against the Bruins and Iowa on Saturday could give Missouri the boost it needs to begin a successful conference season. Early season struggles suddenly become meaningless if you dominate league play.
“We just have to keep grinding,” Snyder said. “You don’t win the race in December. You win the race over the course of the season.
“Our guys are selfless and they want it.you just have to improve. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will. There’s no doubt in my mind.”