The Missouri men’s basketball team isn’t handing opposing coaches any favors.
For the second time this season, the Tigers caused an opposing coach to term his team’s loss to Missouri as one of the worst in his tenure.
“It’s a very difficult loss to stomach,” Stephen F. Austin coach Danny Kaspar said. “One of the hardest ones I’ve had at SFA.”
It’s not that the games have been won or lost in heart-breaking fashion. But Missouri’s defense has made teams look sloppy — and at times unprepared — as was the case Saturday night in the Tigers’ 85-56 win against Stephen F. Austin at Mizzou Arena.
The full-court trap defense carried the team in the first half and left Stephen F. Austin confused. The Lumberjacks, who scored 17 first-half points, battled to get the ball in bounds or even past the half-court line.
“We really had a tough time with their ball pressure,” Kaspar said. “Missouri put it on us. It had a lot to do with their double-team trapping.”
After a poor first-half performance from his starters, Kaspar didn’t see an improvement in the second half. He was so frustrated with his team’s play against Missouri’s defense that he benched his starters less than three minutes into the second half. The coach replaced them with five new players off the bench. Four of the Lumberjacks’ five starters played less than half of the game.
Missouri players say the key to coach Mike Anderson’s defense is energy. But more specifically, Anderson’s defense requires speed and activity in passing lines and on the ball. When implemented by a team with athletic players, such as Missouri, it works excellently.
“Sometimes energy and just playing hard will put you in the right places,” junior guard Jason Horton said. “And that’s what happened tonight.”
From the moment he became Missouri’s head coach, Anderson has made defense the team’s focal point. He has never concerned himself with offense. He said he believes good defense will create the offense.
Horton estimates the team works on defense “about 95 to 100 percent of the time” during practice. The only exception is when the team can’t seem to make a shot during practice. And even then, the team will take no more than a five- or 10-minute break to shoot the basketball.
“We’re always working on defense the whole practice,” Horton said. “Every segment in practice that we do is defense. That’s more of a solid thing to depend on than ajump shot.”
Junior guard Stefhon Hannah’s on-the-ball defense leads the front of Missouri’s press. With four steals against the Lumberjacks, Hannah moved up to No. 2 in the nation with 23 steals. Hannah’s speed and quick reaction time have forced opposing guards to constantly turn the ball over.
“Defensively, our guards dictate the tempo of the game,” Anderson said. “They put pressure on the ball, get in the passing lanes. The pressure, the tempo...it starts with our guards.”
Defensive energy can also bail out the offense when it has an off night. On Saturday, Missouri struggled somewhat in the first half on offense. The Tigers turned the ball over 11 times in the half and scored only 32 points.
“Defense never takes a night off,” junior center Kalen Grimes said. “That’s the main focus of this team. The main focus of our offense even is our defense. With defense, you’ll get turnovers. And with turnovers, you’ll get baskets.”
The Tigers’ first-half woes on offense are nothing new. In the last four games combined, Missouri has scored 63 more points in the second half than in the first. Part of the reason is because Anderson uses the first half to see what rotation he will go with during the second half, which he considers more important.
Anderson played 12 players in the first half, including forward Glen Dandridge, who was playing in just his second game since breaking his foot. Late in the game, Dandridge made back-to-back 3-pointers.