Missouri expecting a grind in SEC Tournament opener against Texas A&M

03/12/2014 4:12 PM

03/12/2014 10:23 PM

If familiarity does indeed breed contempt, there won’t be any love lost Thursday when Missouri battles Texas A&M in the second round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The eighth-seeded Tigers, 21-10 and 9-9 in the Southeastern Conference, meet the ninth-seeded Aggies, 17-14 and 8-10 in the league, for the second time in eight days. Tipoff is at noon.

It’s also the second straight season Missouri and A&M have clashed in the second round of the conference tourney.

“It can be good in terms of our preparation, because we just played them and our guys are very familiar with them,” Tigers coach Frank Haith said. “We know it’s going to be a slow-paced game, a physical game.”

Missouri prefers a wide-open style to A&M’s half-court grind, which is the basketball equivalent to getting teeth pulled for opponents.

“Look at Texas A&M’s scores,” Haith said. “Every game is close, because there’s less possessions. They’re in every game because of that. It’s hard to speed a team up. You’ve just got to be patient in what you do and be sound.”

While preparation might be easier for both teams, the short turnaround between games makes execution tougher because there’s little mystery about the game plan.

“It’s a little tougher for both teams, because you’re real familiar with each other and know what the other team is going to do,” junior guard Jabari Brown said. “I feel like we’re both going to have to play our best game and hopefully we’ll play better than them.”

For 39 minutes and 53 seconds, during last week’s meeting, the Aggies were the better team before senior Earnest Ross came to life and helped salvage a senior-night victory.

But the Tigers hope to use the lessons learned from the struggles in that one-point win to earn a spot in the SEC quarterfinals against top-ranked and top-seeded Florida, which became the first SEC team to finish 18-0 in the conference.

“What we cannot do, and what we did here, is we had those live-ball turnovers and they scored without us defending them,” Haith said. “That’s what you can’t do. That’s what makes it a problem. You’ve got to have patience on both ends. You can’t quick shoot and have long rebounds, where they get transition buckets that way.”

Despite limping to the finish in the regular season, including a 72-45 loss Saturday at Tennessee, Missouri insists that it remains confident.

“It’s still high,” freshman Torren Jones said. “We’ve still got faith. There’s games to be played, so I feel like we still have high confidence and high hopes to keep making a run for it.”

Missouri understands that after losses at Alabama and blowouts defeats at Georgia and Tennessee down the stretch, it faces long odds to reach the NCAA Tournament for a school-record sixth consecutive season.

The Tigers might need to win four games in four days much like Mississippi did last season to claim the SEC’s automatic berth to the tourney.

Still, finding a way to join the March Madness fray remains the goal — and the first step toward reaching that goal is a win against A&M.

“We’re serious right now,” freshman Johnathan Williams III said. “We know we’ve got to get these wins to make it to the NCAA Tournament. That’s just our focus right now — to take it one game at a time.”

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