Six days ago, it seemed the Missouri men’s basketball team had finally begun to piece its season together.
The Tigers had put together three consecutive strong games, going 2-1 against Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska. A trip to Colorado on Wednesday brought all of Missouri’s problems back to the forefront, resulting in an 83-70 loss. The Buffaloes outshot, outhustled, and outplayed the Tigers.
“I’d like not to think this is a setback to how we were playing in December (in a 1-4 stretch),” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “I feel like we’re getting better; I just think we didn’t play well (against Colorado).”
Nonetheless, the Tigers did suffer a temporary setback with the loss of Linas Kleiza, a freshman forward, to a dislocated left shoulder.
Kleiza, who is averaging 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds, was hurt when he leaped for a rebound and came down over Colorado center David Harrison with 52 seconds left.
Missouri media spokesman Sam Fleury said Kleiza had X-rays and an MRI on Thursday, and the team expects Kleiza to be out for two weeks.
After following a win with a loss for the fourth consecutive time, Missouri could continue that trend with a win against Kansas State at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Hearnes Center. With a trip to Kansas looming Monday, the Tigers (8-8, 3-3 Big 12 Conference) desperately need every win they can get.
“We have to get some wins and start to string it together,” senior swingman Rickey Paulding said. “It’s not over yet.”
Missouri suffered a relapse in Colorado, rediscovering the problems that plagued it earlier in the season. The Tigers struggled to get the ball inside, taking 12-of-28 shots in the first half from 3-point range.
When they were able to get the ball to senior center Arthur Johnson in the second half, he responded with 16 of his team-high 19 points before fouling out with 2:47 to play.
Missouri’s inability to push the ball inside was not exposed in the first half, when they made 7-of-12 shots from the outside. That changed in the second half, when Missouri attempted 20 3-pointers and made four.
Although Johnson was strong inside, his foul troubles and Colorado’s lead forced the Tigers into shots from long range.
Lack of cohesion hurts Tigers
Senior guard Josh Kroenke said the Tigers’ offensive troubles are a result of the players’ inability to function consistently as a team.
“We had some guys drifting in and out,” Kroenke said. “None of us are ready to play as a team as a whole. It’s very frustrating to have those kinds of mistakes.”
Kroenke said the lapses develop from a lack of focus, an unusual malady for a team fighting to keep its season alive.
“It’s mainly just everybody not being on the same page at the same time,” he said. “Sometimes we have guys on the offensive end who don’t know what we ran, or defensively forgetting about what they need to do. We need guys dialed in to what we’re doing.”
After a three-game stretch in which the Tigers played well, it seemed as though they were ready to begin reaching expectations.
They were steady on both ends of the court, putting together their best defensive effort of the season against Nebraska in a 72-51 win Saturday.
The intensity the Tigers showed against Nebraska was lacking at Colorado; Missouri allowed the Buffaloes to shoot 54.9 percent, the second-best shooting night an opponent has had against the Tigers this season. (UNC-Greensboro shot 56.5 percent Dec. 21.)
Snyder said the lackluster defense was a combination of being on the road and struggling on offense.
“It’s different when you’re on the road,” he said. “We’ve really benefited from our (home) crowd. We have to find a way to generate that enthusiasm and that energy. We need that in order to defend.”
Kansas State in town Saturday
With the possible exception of Baylor, Kansas State may be the best team in the Big 12 to face to get back on track. The Wildcats (9-7, 1-4) have lost six of eight and struggle mightily away from home, losing their past 18 conference road games.
Junior forward Jeremiah Massey comes off the bench and is the Wildcats’ top scoring threat. He averages 13.1 points and 7.7 rebounds to lead the team in both categories.
At 12.8 points, senior guard Tim Ellis is the only other Wildcat that averages double figures in scoring. Freshman guard Lance Harris, a Hickman graduate, averages 2.9 points in 10.5 minutes off the bench.
Rediscovering their run of steady play is the only way the Tigers can turn the season around. Kroenke said that begins with him and the team’s other three seniors.
“That’s something we have to do,” Kroenke said. “We’ve been around the block a few times. To be in this situation, it’s a challenge for us as a team going down the stretch.”
Again at the .500 mark and with the season’s midway point behind them, the Tigers have faced must-win games for several weeks. A loss to Kansas State, though, might signal the end in January of a season that started with so much promise in November.
“If we’re going to salvage anything out of this season, we have to do it now,” Kroenke said.