An 11-2 record going into the conference season had Missouri wondering if it could maybe reach the NCAA tournament.
But after an 85-81 home loss to Kansas State put Missouri in an 0-3 hole in the conference standings, the Tigers are wondering when they will get their first conference win under coach Mike Anderson.
With a game waiting in Lawrence, Kan., against the Jayhawks on Monday, many thought Missouri would approach the game against Kansas State on Saturday as a must-win type game to stay alive in the Big 12 Conference. But the sense of urgency for the Tigers to get that first conference win was absent.
Instead, what occurred was more closely related to the sluggish start in Wednesday’s game at Texas, in which the Tigers were out-rebounded by double digits. In the first half against Kansas State, the Tigers were out-rebounded 23-5.
“I thought they were much more physical than we were, as evident by the rebounding at halftime,” said Anderson, who opened his press conference with an apology to Missouri fans. “So they kind of took the fight. They just threw it up there and went and got it.
“I thought they physically took the game at us. And we didn’t respond in a way that I want us to.”
Anderson’s disappointment about the team’s inability to rebound and get loose balls was obvious, both during the game and in the post-game press conference.
“That’s the hustle part. That’s a loose ball,” Anderson said “That’s especially what we’ve always done. And it’s amazing that in this particular game here we didn’t do that. That’s the first thing we talked about. Energy. You got to play with energy and you got to get all the loose balls.”
It took a 16-point Kansas State lead in the second half before the Tigers showed the urgency Anderson was begging for on the sidelines throughout the game. Missouri forward Marshall Brown made play after play to try to get the Tigers back in the game on his way to a career-high 28 points in only 26 minutes. But what Missouri lacked was another good performance from its season’s best playmaker, guard Stefhon Hannah.
Hannah, who was held to a season-low seven points, was only able to play 24 minutes because of foul trouble. He picked up his third foul on a fast break in the first half when Kansas State guard Clent Stewart made up for his turnover by taking a charge.
Hannah, who showed his displeasure after being whistled for the third foul, was careful with his words in describing the referee’s call on the play.
“That’s what happens. You attack the hole a little out of control,” Hannah said. “You think you’re going to get a call. The referees, they make good calls. That’s what he saw, so that’s what it was.”
Anderson said Hannah’s foul trouble changed the flow of the game.
“It just seemed like it took us out of sync for awhile,” Anderson aid. “I think it really did. But I thought in the second half, we did a lot of the things that we did without Stefhon.”
After picking up his fourth foul early in the second half, Anderson sat his starting point guard on the bench for much of the half. The Tigers made their biggest runs without Hannah, cutting the lead to six before Anderson decided to bring him back in. But Hannah, who denied he was nervous playing against Kansas State and coach Bob Huggins, wasn’t the same player he’s been in Missouri’s first 15 games of the season.
With a chance for the Tigers to cut the lead to four, Hannah missed a short jumper on a three-on-one fast break. Two possessions later, a Hannah 3-point attempt clanked of the backboard before hitting the rim. Down the stretch, with the Tigers down five with just more than a minute to play, Hannah dribbled the ball off his leg before it fell out of bounds. He finished 2-of-9 from the field and 0-of-5 from 3-point range.
“I didn’t play the way I was supposed to play,” Hannah said. “And I didn’t help out my team at all. ...That’s me. If I’ve done something wrong, it’s on me. I don’t blame anybody else for my mistakes.”
Hannah said he was most disappointed with the loss because of how much the Tigers needed to get a conference win. Now 0-3, the pressure builds for a Missouri team filled with newcomers, a team Anderson said could be fragile.
“Most definitely there’s pressure,” Hannah said. “We have to get some wins. We can’t come out like we usually come out and just ‘OK, we got another game.’ Every game is a big game from now on. And it should have been like that from the jump.”