After the arduous process of an NCAA investigation and sanctioning, one might think the Missouri basketball team would be used to adversity by now.
The Tigers got a taste of adversity on the court Friday, when Davidson College held on to defeat Missouri 84-81. The Tigers had rallied back from a 19-point deficit.
MU coach Quin Snyder called the game “demoralizing” and “frustrating,” and for the first time, cracks in the team’s cultivated image of solidarity have begun to appear.
The Tigers had three opportunities to tie the game in the closing seconds, but sophomore guard Thomas Gardner, junior guard Jimmy McKinney, and senior guard Jason Conley missed consecutive 3-pointers.
Snyder said he was proud of Missouri’s comeback, but he criticized his players’ lack of hustle and commitment early in the game.
“One of the things we’ve been talking about in practice is just urgency,” Snyder said. “We didn’t play with urgency until we got way down, and then we looked like a completely different team. As a coach, you want to get them jacked up, but you can’t coach effort. The effort has got to be there throughout the game.”
Conley had 18 points in his best outing of the year, and sophomore forward Linas Kleiza led the Tigers with 25.
Conley said he tried everything he could do to get the Tigers back in the game. He was unsuccessful in his efforts but said the team learned it couldn’t win without playing consistently.
Most of the MU players agreed the game would have never been so close in the final moments if the team had played its hardest from the first whistle.
“It just happened today, you know,” freshman center Kalen Grimes said. “I guess we just didn’t dig in until we got down 18, and we realized you got to play to win. That’s something we can’t do. We got to play from the jump. We didn’t and that hurt us today.”
The Wildcats played a physical game under the basket and dominated Missouri on the boards, out-rebounding the Tigers 36-26. Davidson also victimized the Tigers’ poor perimeter defense, shooting 70 percent from the floor.
“They were tougher than we were,” Snyder said. “They knock you around. They play physical. The last 10 minutes our guys started playing at that level of toughness. We were getting the big rebounds. We were diving on the floor, but early on I just didn’t see that from our team. That’s disappointing to me.”
The negative energy carried over to the locker room after the game.
As reporters waited in the hallway outside of the Missouri locker room, obscenities emanated from inside.
Reporters were promptly shooed from the hallway by Sam Fleury, assistant director of media relations for the MU athletic department.
“That was just intensity,” Grimes said about the yelling. “When games like this happen, that just happens. Everyone does it. It’s tough, you know. We get on each other. Every day we get stronger, but every day it gets harder.”
The Tigers have played three games in the past week. Snyder said fatigue might have played a role in the Tigers’ lackadaisical effort, but Missouri won’t have much time to rest.
The Tigers play Creighton in Kansas City on Tuesday in the semifinal round of the Guardian’s Classic. McKinney said most of the work the Tigers have to do until then is mental.
“There’s nothing you can do,” McKinney said. “It’s all in the mind and the heart. You got to play with the type of intensity that you need to win ball games. That’s all there is. This is a wakeup call. We needed this game. I’m not saying we needed a loss, but we needed this game to wake us up and let us know that there’s guys out here that are ready to play.”