Here’s something that could ease the minds of Missouri fans fretting over the Tigers’ last two losses: Frank Haith has noticed a common denominator in both, which followed a frustrating pattern of close losses that has lingered all season.
“Attack,” Haith said. “It’s about running good offense and finishing with an aggressive play. We’ve become passive in those situations and not just in running offense, but we’ve taken soft shots.
“When the game’s on the line, the aggressive team wins. And in both those games, Ole Miss and Tennessee were the more aggressive teams in the last five, six minutes of the ballgame.”
Against Tennessee in the season finale, the Tigers blew a 50-42 lead with 10 minutes left. And against Mississippi in the SEC tournament, the Tigers blew a 56-46 lead with eight minutes left, scoring only two baskets over the last 8:49. The latter marked the sixth time Missouri has lost in the final seconds in its last seven losses.
So Haith — whose team shot a combined five free throws in the last 10 minutes of both games — wants them to focus on getting to the rim and drawing fouls, while also playing under control and getting a quality shot. At times, the Tigers have attempted to do both while slowing the game while attempting to do both, but when asked if he’s thought of changing strategies, Haith seemed hesitant.
“That’s a fine line,” Haith said. “You’ve got to go on feel. You don’t want to continue to take quick shots … it’s about feel at that point in time and depending on the game. I don’t want it to mess with our guys’ heads.”
Besides, Haith said, it’s not like they have won some close games, too. Against Virginia Commonwealth, junior point guard Phil Pressey — who has made his fair share of late-game mistakes — hit a stepback jumper to win the game. And the Tigers also closed out Bucknell and Illinois in tight ballgames.
“We have finished ballgames,” Haith said. “It hasn’t been that we haven’t … we’ve got to have guys making plays when they need to make plays. And I’m not going to stop relying on Phil Pressey. If I did that, I don’t know that we would win any of those games.”
Pressey — who has committed a turnover or missed an ill-advised jumper in nearly all of Missouri’s road losses this season — nearly rewarded Haith for his faith against Mississippi, when he made a three-pointer that put Missouri up with less than a minute left.
“Phil’s my guy, I love him and he’s going to learn from his mistakes,” Haith said. “The biggest part is him … realizing ‘Hey, I wish I could take some of those back.’ That’s a life skill, admit your faults and look ahead.”
That’s exactly what the Tigers are doing as a team.
“A lot of our tough losses have come down the stretch in games where we weren’t able to get a stop or we weren’t able to execute the right way,” senior forward Alex Oriakhi said. “But I tell guys, you know, you better figure it out now, because if you don’t, you’re going home. I think it’s something that we’ve definitely learned from.”