Monday, January 14, 2013

Mizzou's first SEC road game a dud, big one with Florida Saturday

The hints that Missouri’s first SEC road game would be a debacle came early, with a flurry of missed shots and turnovers leading to a preposterous six-and-a-half minute scoring drought to begin the game for the Tigers.

Mississippi (13-2, 2-0 in SEC play through Sunday) led 31-22 at the half, stretched the lead in the second, and eventually won 64-49. Missouri (12-3, 1-1 in SEC) failed to score 50 points in a game for the first time since 2005 against Iowa State, as the Quin Snyder era unraveled.

This game was a throwback to the later Quin days, just a sloppy mess. Missouri had nearly as many turnovers (19) as field goals made (21). The Tigers missed 16 of the 18 three-pointers they shot. Star point guard Phil Pressey had as many turnovers as assists, five each. At one point, Ole Miss’ lead ballooned to 18, the Rebels didn’t score for nearly four minutes, and Missouri was only able to trim the lead to 14.

Ole Miss is a respectable team that got a huge boost from a worked-up home crowd, but the Rebels aren’t this good. They were able to smoke Missouri despite shooting 27.8 percent on threes and less than 40 percent overall.

To be fair, Missouri was missing senior forward Laurence Bowers, out at least two games due to a knee sprain. He surely would’ve helped the situation, but this one was pretty far off the rails.

If Missouri is to compete for the conference title, it needs Bowers back sooner rather than later. After Wednesday’s home game against dreadful Georgia comes a big one, at top-10 Florida on Saturday (1 p.m. on ESPN).

Guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario lead Florida in scoring. Both begin the week making 84 percent or more of their free throws. Patric Young can be trouble inside. It would be nice to see Missouri feed the ball into Alex Oriakhi inside to challenge Young and maybe get him in foul trouble. Working the post could also give Missouri’s shooters more space. Oriakhi only having four field goal attempts against Mississippi feels like basketball malpractice.

Florida is probably the team Missouri will have to outduel for the conference title, so this one is big. Florida (12-2, 2-0 in SEC through Sunday) won each of its first two SEC games by more than 20 points, and the Tigers can’t expect the Gators to pick up many conference losses unless Missouri deals them. A Thursday trip to Texas A&M could be a tougher challenge for Florida heading into Saturday’s game with Missouri.

The game is also another test of these Tigers as we wade deeper into conference play, with all the new experiences of this new conference home.

A victory here would be Missouri’s best win by far. At Florida and with Bowers’ situation up in the air, the Gators should pick up the win here. But for Missouri, competing hard and playing much better than that Ole Miss disaster would be an encouraging step forward.

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