Mental specter haunts Tigers

A 50-year-old schools scholarship athletes.
Monday, February 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:59 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Missouri men’s basketball coach Quin Snyder said the Tigers’ toughest opponent isn’t some 7-foot center or an impenetrable zone defense.

Their worst enemy is a 50-year-old man.

The old man has been beating the Tigers all year long. Yet, he isn’t a coach, a former player or a fan. He doesn’t even have a name. The only place he exists is in the players’ minds.

The 50-year-old man represents maturity, or in the Tigers’ case, the lack of it.

“You know when you play in pick-up games in open gym or whatever and there’s like a 50-year-old guy that just knows how to play,” Snyder said. “He can barely walk, but he kicks your (butt) every time ‘cause he knows how to win.

“We get drilled by that old man . . . a lot.”

As time goes on, Missouri (11-13, 3-7 Big 12 Conference) is learning to play with the old man instead of against him. He certainly seemed to be on the Tigers’ side as they overcame deficits of 10 or more points twice against No. 16 Oklahoma (17-6, 6-4). Missouri won 68-65 in overtime.

This newfound maturity came to the forefront in the waning seconds of overtime. Four times the Tigers had a chance to put the game away at the free-throw line. They faltered, however, and scored just one point. Instead of becoming frustrated, they responded and got crucial rebounds to crush any chance Oklahoma had to tie or win the game.

Snyder said his players made impeccable choices despite the adversity and pressure of a close game.

“That’s the message we’ve been trying to get to our guys in every respect,” Snyder said. “If you make a mistake, go make a play.”

He said the players were finally acting on instincts instead of thinking about their next move. The only thing they should be thinking about is winning, and then smart play will follow, Snyder said.

Freshman point guard Jason Horton said he could tell he and his teammates had a different mind-set during the game. Especially against the troublesome zone defense

“We were just more aggressive, trying to penetrate it,” Horton said. “I think sometimes zone kind of lulls us to sleep on offense. We start standing and watching. I think we just stayed aggressive like we do on man-to-man.”

The win against Oklahoma ended a five-game losing slump for the Tigers, but Snyder said it isn’t a reason to celebrate but a feeling his players need to hold onto.

“I’m not saying we should hold our arms up and say, ‘Hoorah. Hoorah. We won a game,’” Snyder said. “We’ve lost a few in a row.”

The Tigers’ lone senior, Jason Conley, said the tough season is frustrating, especially when wins against teams like Oklahoma and Gonzaga prove what the Tigers are capable of.

“It’s frustrating, but that’s over now,” Conley said. “We’re not even thinking about those games. All we can do is what’s ahead of us right now.”

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