Three keys for Mizzou against Texas A&M

03/13/2014 10:32 AM

03/13/2014 10:32 AM

Missouri freshman forward Torren Jones was antsy during the first half against Texas A on March 5 at Mizzou Arena.

He’d been suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules and was relegated to the role of spectator. And what he saw wasn’t pretty.

The Tigers started the game one for nine from the field and trailed 30-20 at halftime. It matched the fewest points Missouri had scored in a first half all season and Jones knew his team — and its fade NCAA Tournament hopes — was on the ropes.

Throughout the season, Jones, who is extremely athletic but needs polish to his game, has earned a well-deserved reputation as an energy guy.

He provides an instant spark off the bench almost every time he checks in, so it’s no surprise that’s precisely what he provided with five points and four rebounds in 13 minutes during the second half against A

“I saw my team was down at halftime, so I just came in and wanted to pick them up,” Jones said.

The hallmark of Jones’ game is persistence. He sports matching tattoos on his forearm that say “Perseverance” on the left and “Determination” on the right.

“Energy is something you can do day in and day out, so it’s something I try to do,” Jones said. “… I’ve always had a certain type of energy, but I saw that was a need for our team and I feel like I provided that.”

With Tony Criswell missing in action, he remained back in Columbia to deal with personal issues, it’s going to be even more important that Jones and the rest of Missouri’s young corps of big men brings intensity against a hard-nosed Aggies squad.

“Torren Jones gave us great minutes here in the second half against those guys,” Haith said. “I look at what our young post guys have been doing, we’ll need that kind of play out of them.”

The Tigers survived just barely in the previous meeting against A Here are a few keys to squeezing past the Aggies again and reaching the SEC tourney quarterfinals:

1. Contain Fabyon Harris

Texas A senior guard Fabyon Harris was something of a Tiger slayer last season. He was the leading scorer in both of the Aggies’ meetings against Missouri.

It was Harris’ three-pointer with 12 seconds remaining that beat the Tigers 70-68 last season at College Station. He scored a team-high 17 in that game.

When Missouri exacted revenge, beating A 62-50 in the conference tournament five weeks later, it wasn’t because of Harris, who scored a team-high 15 points in defeat.

Harris, who fainted during a shoot-around March 1 and was hospitalized for three days, didn’t play in the last week’s loss at Mizzou Arena, but he returned to the starting lineup last Saturday and should be 100 percent this time around.

“He can be a spark,” Haith said. “I think he’s talented. He’s had good games in the past against us.”

With Jamal Jones’ uncertain status, he didn’t fly to Atlanta with the team because of a bacterial infection, Harris will be a big factor once again.

2. Attack the basket

Missouri settled for too many jumpers against Tennessee and the shots simply weren’t falling. The Tigers went two of 23 from the floor away from the basket in a 27-point loss in the regular-season finale.

But against A last week, Missouri fought its way to the free-throw line 30 times and shot 80 percent. Those 24 points were critical in a 57-56 win.

The Tigers must play with that same aggressive mindset.

Of course, hitting a few jumpers and finishing better at the rim, which would boost a 34-percent shooting performance from the first meeting, wouldn’t hurt either.

3. Rebound, rebound, rebound

Aside from getting the line and making free throws, the other thing Missouri did extremely well against A was rebound.

The Tigers owned a 39-24 edge on the glass, including 17 offensive rebounds. The Aggies only managed 17 defensive rebounds, so it was a masterful performance.

Missouri leads to control the boards again and, if the Tigers also managed to cut down on the 17 turnovers they committed, that might lead to a less dramatic victory.

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