COLUMBIA — It was a sequence every bit as frustrating as it was troubling. Missouris chance to win its first road game of the season came and went in a matter of 40 seconds.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Worse yet, it was junior point guard Phil Pressey the Southeastern Conferences preseason player of the year who helped MUs 70-68 loss at Texas A&M come to fruition. First, he threw the ball away with 24 seconds left and Missouri leading 68-67. Then, on the defensive end, he switched on a ball screen when he wasnt supposed to and left Texas A&M guard Fabyon Harris wide open for the game-winning three-pointer.
Obviously, hes beating himself up, Missouri coach Frank Haith said of Pressey, who finished with 13 points, four assists and seven turnovers Thursday night.
Pressey has had his moments of brilliance this season. He entered the game with a SEC-leading 7.2 assists per game, several of them of the highlight-reel variety. But Thursdays game marked the third time this season that Pressey struggled down the stretch on the road.
At UCLA on Dec. 28, Pressey racked up 19 points and 19 assists but shot zero for five from the field with four turnovers during the final 11 minutes of a 97-94 overtime loss. He also drew criticism in Missouris 73-70 loss at LSU on Jan. 30, when he scored 25 points but missed several quick shots late.
Throw in a pair of clunkers in road losses to Mississippi (10 points, five assists, five turnovers) and Florida (two points, six assists, 10 turnovers), and you understand why Haith has been stressing the importance of playing under control to Pressey, his gifted, 5-foot-11 point guard.
Right now, I just want him to relax and play the game the way he knows how to play it, Haith said.
Particularly on defense. Haith, who candidly said after Thursdays game that the Tigers arent a very good defensive team right now, said some of their struggles on the road begin with their perimeter defense.
Other teams point guards are just having their way with us, Haith continued. Teams are shooting it (well), particularly on the road, and were trying not to foul and were not as aggressive and therefore we get in foul trouble. At home, were decent but on the road were just bad at defending.
Texas A&Ms Harris scored 17 points. The Tigers also let LSUs diminutive guard duo of Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer combine for 38 points in that loss. Theres also this: Missouri has allowed the opposing starting point guard to score in double-digits in all five of its SEC road losses.
Its been a combination of a lot of things, Haith said when asked if teams are doing most of their damage on ball screens or pick-and-rolls. I do know this. People theyre attacking us pretty hard at that position.
So while Presseys turnovers are a concern he already has 83 in 22 games this season, just two fewer than he had in 35 games last year Haith would also like to see him make his defense a focus.
Defensively, hes got to lock in, Haith said. He is a good defender when he wants to be. We just have to challenge him.
That goes for the rest of the team, as well.
Were all at fault, Haith said of the Texas A&M loss. Its not just Phil and that last play I dont think we got any 50-50 balls in that game. Every 50-50 ball, they got and they ended up turning into baskets on the other end. We didnt finish the game.
Haith will get a chance to see if his message has sunk in at noon Saturday, when the Tigers play host to Mississippi at Mizzou Arena. Once again, their chances of winning will likely ride on the play of Pressey, an undeniably gifted player still seeking his groove.
But rest assured, Haith will have his back while he does.
Hes our guy, Haith said.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.