Kansas State came out swinging in the CBE Classic semifinals last Monday against Missouri at the Sprint Center.
The Tigers proved to have a soft chin and went down easily.
It appeared coach Kim Anderson’s squad was headed toward a similar result Tuesday in the tourney’s third-place game against Northwestern, which took a 14-point lead into halftime.
After three inglorious halves, Missouri finally got up off the mat and nearly stunned Northwestern.
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The Tigers’ second-half rally ultimately came up short in a 67-62 loss, the third in a row after a 2-0 start to the season.
Still, it provided hope.
“It was definitely good for our confidence, seeing the ball go into the net,” freshman forward Kevin Puryear said. “I think that was really a flash of what we’re capable of doing all the time.”
Missouri, 2-3, enters what should be a softer section of its schedule with three games against midmajor foes in the next nine days at Mizzou Arena beginning with Arkansas State at 8 p.m. Tuesday on the SEC Network.
The Tigers also face Northern Illinois on Friday and Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 9 before a stretch of games that includes Arizona, North Carolina State and Illinois.
“Having this week of practice really helped us move on from the losses that we’ve had,” senior center Ryan Rosburg said. “We’ve got a nice home stretch here, so hopefully we can get back on track and get back to winning some games.”
It would be easy for Missouri, especially the players held over from last season, to get down in the midst of a three-game skid, but Anderson believes the second-half comeback against Northwestern and a good week of practice helped buoy the team’s confidence.
“I’m encouraged, but certainly not pleased with where we’re at …,” Anderson said. “We are 2-3. We shouldn’t be 2-3. I’m not saying we should be 5-0, but we shouldn’t be 2-3. … Confidence is a key component to this basketball team. Hopefully, we built up some confidence over this week.”
It’s easy (but probably also lazy) to draw a comparison with last year, which also started 2-3 for MU.
“I don’t sense anything the same as a year ago,” Anderson said. “Nothing.”
Enthusiasm and intensity are two areas where the Tigers can pick up some slack.
Late in the first half against Northwestern, assistant coach Steve Shields was leading cheers on the bench. That needs to come from engaged and excited players, not a coach in his first season with the program.
“I feel like we do (need more enthusiasm) — not just on the bench, but on the court, too,” freshman point guard Terrence Phillips said. “I feel like when we get down, everybody just goes, ‘Oh, here we go again’ … Nobody tries to make an effort, but I feel like that’s been changing the last few weeks of practice.”
The newcomers, especially the four freshmen who are getting significant minutes, brought energy in the offseason, but the challenge is to keep that energy high and letting it filter to the rest of the team.
“As brothers, it’s our job to encourage them and tell them this is not last year,” Puryear said. “We’re going to be as positive as possible. We’re just going to keep getting better and hopefully get some wins in the process.”
That starts against the Red Wolves, 2-4, who were blown out by Oregon and Baylor last week.
So, are the next three games must-wins?
“I don’t think you want to put that pressure on guys,” Anderson said. “We’re still trying to establish ourselves and try to play one game at a time. … Obviously, having home games, you’ve got to take care of your own court. Hopefully, will be able to do that.”