Missouri’s locker room was an uncomfortable place for the last two months, but a program record-tying 13-game losing streak, which was snapped Saturday, wasn’t the only cause.
The cushy chairs that usually sit in front of each of the Tigers’ stalls in the team locker room at Mizzou Arena were removed Nov. 29.
Third-year coach Kim Anderson stripped three luxuries from his team at practice after a demoralizing Nov. 28 loss against North Carolina Central, a game in which the Tigers shot 25 percent in dropping a 62-52 decision.
Each would only be restored with a win.
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Mizzou reclaimed its practice jerseys Dec. 3 by knocking off Western Kentucky and the team’s managers returned to practice after a win Dec. 6 against Miami (Ohio).
But those cushy chairs remained in storage as the Tigers endured a months-long losing streak, a nightmarish stretch that finally ended with an 83-78 win against Arkansas during the Rally for Rhyan benefit game.
“Through all of this, I haven’t changed and they haven’t changed …,” Anderson said after Saturday’s win, noting the effort in practice has never lacked. “I think they were just tired of losing — and they wanted to get their chairs back. You guys remember the chairs?”
Some of Mizzou’s players barely did.
“I forgot about it for a little bit until Coach A said something,” sophomore forward Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate, said during Monday’s media availability. “I have gotten to the point where I was fine with the other chairs and had stopped thinking about the (cushy) chairs. But it's good to have them back. When you don't have them for so long, you learn to appreciate it. … There’s a lot more cushion.”
Sophomore guard Cullen VanLeer added, “They’re nice. It’s good to have the comfy chairs back. … I was starting to get used to those.”
VanLeer gestured to the interlocking, steel folding chairs in the media room, which the Tigers used for the last 10 weeks.
Just don’t expect Missouri (6-16, 1-9 SEC) — which raised more than $54,000 for pediatric cancer research Saturday, pushing its two-year total above $100,000 — to get too comfortable.
“We understand we got our first win in a long time and my first win, but the season is not over,” said junior forward Jordan Barnett, who became eligible Dec. 17 during the second game of the losing streak. “We want to keep winning games. We want to keep pushing and believe we could actually beat some of these teams. This is just a stepping stone we hope.”
Complacency won’t be an issue for the Tigers, who had scrapped and clawed and been competitive in each game during the slide aside from a last Thursday’s 39-point loss at Florida.
“The effort, with the exception of the Florida game, because that was just all-around bad, the effort is always there,” Puryear said. “We just have to come out and make winning plays, which I thought we did a good job of (against Arkansas).”
Making shots helps, too.
Mizzou went 27 of 53 from the field versus the Razorbacks — shooting above 50 percent for the first time since a Nov. 26 win against Northwestern (La.) State, a span of 17 games.
“If you could put together back-to-back games where you play well, you make shots, maybe you get through that run that the other team makes, hopefully you can build on that,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, we’re building on that in February. Most teams are doing that in November and December. We’re a little late, but we still have time.”
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, whose Aggies host the Tigers at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in College Station, Texas, has been impressed.
“It’s really a credit to Coach Anderson, how hard he has those kids playing …,” he said. “They play as hard as anybody in our league.”