Keon Lawrence is usually a talkative, engaging guy.
Whether the conversation is with a reporter or one of his teammates, Lawrence seems to be glad to talk, and talk a lot.
But after Saturday’s game, a game Missouri lost 66-61 to Nebraska, Lawrence’s answers were short and his voice was muted. At times, it seemed like Lawrence, an emotional person, was trying to keep himself from crying. He occasionally bit his lip and halted his answers while preferring to look at the floor below him.
“Man, it’s like, it hurts man,” Lawrence said, pausing for a few seconds after hearing a question. “We can’t really seem to finish the game off right now. It’s the same things just killing us.”
One of the things that continues to kill the Tigers is rebounding. Once again, Missouri (13-8, 2-6 Big 12) allowed its opponent to get more rebounds, this time by a 37-31 margin. Saturday’s opponent, however, hadn’t out-rebounded its opponent in Big 12 play. Other than center Aleks Maric, Nebraska started four guards, none taller than 6-foot-4.
“I don’t even look at rebounds any more,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said.
Nebraska (13-8, 2-5 Big 12) had plenty of chances to get rebounds because Missouri shot only 37 percent on Saturday. Matt Lawrence, who was averaging 11.7 points per game, went scoreless. Before fouling out in the second half, Stefhon Hannah scored only six points, all of which came on 3-pointers.
“Matt Lawrence doesn’t normally, he turned down a lot of shots and didn’t make any shots,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “And he’s one of those guys we can count on to make shots for us.”
Partly because of the rebounding and shooting, the Tigers have now lost two straight games. They also seem to have lost something less tangible, something that can’t be counted on a stat sheet.
“Right now, this is something this team is dealing with,” Anderson said.
Entering Big 12 play, Missouri was 11-2 and an NCAA tournament bid was a possibility. The Tigers believed they were going to win any game they played, no matter the opponent.
As recently as a week ago, the Tigers were 2-4 in the Big 12 but on a two-game winning streak. Before Missouri’s game against Texas Tech last Saturday, Hannah said, “It’s our time to explode.” Then, Missouri played one of its best games of the season, beating Texas Tech by 13 points.
Just a week later, Missouri has lost two straight games and its third home game in the Big 12 season.
“We ain’t on the same page right now,” Keon Lawrence said.
And Anderson, the man whose job it is to keep his team confident, admitted his team’s mind-set isn’t where it needs to be.
“We’re going to have a self-evaluation of who they are and what they mean to this basketball team,” Anderson said. “I’ve done it all year long, but we’ll do an extensive version of it and get ready for an Iowa State team that will be charged up and hungry.
“That’s going to be the challenge for our coaching staff.”
When the season started, Keon Lawrence said Missouri was capable of winning the national championship. Keeping this person’s confidence up didn’t sound like it would ever be an issue. Now, even after scoring 18 points, Keon Lawrence sounded like a different person, one that had experienced things he never expected to.
“Our confidence is not what it’s supposed to be,” Keon Lawrence said. “We just thought we were going to do a better job of just finishing the game off or something.
“This one hurt, man.”