NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With all the attention paid to Missouris late-game execution in its 64-62 loss to Tennessee on Saturday, its perhaps easy to forget the Tigers were uncharacteristically beaten on the boards.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Led by 6-foot-8, 270-pound bruiser Jarnell Stokes, the Vols outrebounded Missouri 45-32, the Tigers largest deficit of the season.
And for a team and coach who have prided themselves on effort, that just doesnt sit well.
You know, teams have things that theyre good at, and rebounding is one of the things I thought we would really be good at, said Missouri coach Frank Haith, whose team ranks second nationally with 41.1 rebounds per game. We focus on that with our team (but) we havent done as good a job blocking out (lately). That showed in our last game in Knoxville. They exposed us.
No doubt. Of course, Tennessee isnt so bad at rebounding itself. Stokes, who pulled down 13 boards against the Tigers, averages 9.4 per game, while the Vols are second only to Missouri when it comes to rebounding margin in the Southeastern Conference. To emphasize effort, Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin distributed hard hats to his team before the Missouri game.
With the Tigers set to begin the SEC Tournament at 9 p.m. Thursday against Texas A&M at Bridgestone Arena, Haith wouldnt mind seeing his team bring a similar attitude.
Thats something we emphasize, Haith said. Its the whole staff. We want our guards to rebound, too. We want Keion Bell and Earnest Ross, those guys to rebound.
The 6-foot-5 Ross, who averages 4.9 rebounds a game, and the 6-foot-4 Bell, who averages 4.2, have done their fair share of work on the boards. But its senior forward Alex Oriakhi who averages 10.9 points and 8.5 rebounds who sets the tone for the Tigers. Its no coincidence Missouri struggled on the glass against the Vols because Oriakhi who finished with six points and six rebounds was in foul trouble.
He doesnt worry about scoring, senior forward Laurence Bowers said of Oriakhi. He put all his emphasis on rebounding and playing defense and when thats your main goal, you know, its hard to stop you. Obviously, hes very strong so he uses his body very well, but he just cares about doing the small things.
The small things like rebounding figure to play a big role in the outcome of the league tournament, as Haith even said Wednesday the SEC is way more physical than he thought it would be.
Good thing the Tigers have been building toward this challenge for the better part of five months. And it appears Saturdays loss to Tennessee served as a sufficient reminder of what they need to do if they hope to win the SEC Tournament title.
We do a lot of boxing out drills and offensive rebounding drills and it translates into the games, Bowers said. You know, when we go to the glass every time, good things happen.