Missouri coach Frank Haith didn’t call out freshman Johnathan Williams III or senior Tony Criswell by name during pointed postgame remarks after a 91-88 loss Saturday at Mississippi.
He didn’t have to, because it was easy enough to read between the lines.
Haith said he was pleased with energy and aggressiveness freshman Torren Jones brought off the bench. He also said sophomore Ryan Rosburg “competed” in the second half.
Of course, that was after calling out his frontcourt for failing to compete during a first half that saw the Rebels bury the Tigers by 15 points. Haith singled out the big men’s struggles as the primary cause of the loss.
“It means dudes just wasn’t ready,” junior Jordan Clarkson said. “They didn’t come out and play. The kid (Sebastian) Saiz, freshman kid, came out and hit us in the mouth and we can’t let that happen. … We didn’t rebound the ball. They just out-toughed us. That’s why they got the win.”
Saiz and junior Aaron Jones each had five first-half boards, part of a 17-14 overall advantage for Mississippi, which boasted a 43.8 offensive rebound percentage in the opening half.
Williams also had five rebounds in 16 minutes, but he turned it over four times and had several shots blocked at the rim — an alarmingly common trend since Missouri entered SEC play.
“There were so many loose balls, and I thought Saiz and Jones were really way more aggressive in coming up with loose balls and more physical than our guys in the first half,” Haith said.
Senior Earnest Ross, who finished with six rebounds, sounded a softer tone.
“I just don’t think we rebounded the way we could and that’s something we’ve got to continue to work on,” Ross said. “And as we work on that, we’ll continue to become a better team.”
Of course, Haith’s frustration probably was amplified by the fact that Missouri should have — at least when glancing at the season numbers — dominated the glass.
Missouri entered play ranked third in the SEC and 22nd in the nation in rebounding margin at plus-6.5.
Meanwhile, Mississippi came into play as the worst rebounding team in the conference and ranked 286th in rebounding margin at minus-3.1.
Total mismatch, right? Nope, the Rebels outrebounded the Tigers 34-33, including 14 offensive boards than led to 15 second-chance points.
Junior Jabari Brown led Missouri with seven rebounds — the most he’s had since Dec. 21 against Illinois, a span of 12 games.
Williams, who’s been the Tigers’ leading scorer in eight games this season, finished with six rebounds, while Rosburg — who scored 11 points, all in the second half — added five along with Clarkson.
“I look at what Ole Miss does, and I think Jones and Saiz understand their role for their team,” Haith said. “We’ve got to be consistent. Those guys have got to understand that this level is physical play, and I thought they were way more physical than us and played with great toughness, kept balls alive. If you ask me, I think they were the key to the game.”
Missouri wrapped up a crucial four-game stretch with three straight losses, a first since Haith took over the program, and potentially played itself off the NCAA Tournament bubble with the loss.
Of course, with eight games remaining plus the SEC Tournament, it’s far too early to chisel the Tigers’ tombstone yet — though time is rapidly running out.
“We are fighting for our tournament lives,” Clarkson said. “We’ve got to come out here and change the attitude of some of our guys out here.”