The road became a house of horrors last season for the Missouri men’s basketball team.
The Tigers finished 2-7 away from home in the Southeastern Conference. On several occasions they were simply blown out, but there also was an excruciating series of losses featuring mangled or mismanaged late-game possessions.
Mississippi crushed Missouri by 15 and Florida trounced the Tigers by 31, but the losses that stung the most were at LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee — games coach Frank Haith’s team was in position to win before a critical turnover or ill-considered shot.
Worst of all, the Tigers never seemed to learn from those mistakes and, instead, repeated the errors as losses piled up.
“Our execution late game was pretty tough,” sophomore Ryan Rosburg said. “We didn’t make the right calls and made some bad plays.”
That can’t happen again if No. 21 Missouri, 12-2, which opens its conference road slate at 1 p.m. Saturday at Auburn, has any chance of competing in the SEC.
Of course, success on the road became even more imperative after Georgia’s stunning overtime victory Wednesday at Mizzou Arena, a loss that snapped Missouri’s 26-game home win streak.
“A lot of guys on this team were on the court in those key moments of the game last year,” senior forward Tony Criswell said. “Me, (senior guard) Earnest (Ross) and (junior guard) Jabari (Brown), we know that the harder it gets, the more we have to come together. We learned that concept and have been putting it to use. It’s really been helping us out and I think we’ll be better on the road.”
During Missouri’s only nonconference road game, the Tigers showed more backbone than last season, rallying from a 10-point second-half deficit and knocking off North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C.
“That was a big thing for us to start it off with a road win at N.C. State, just showing our toughness and our grit, that we’re going to stay in the game at all times,” junior Jordan Clarkson said.
That same grit was noticeably absent during stretches against Georgia during the SEC opener, but if it returns at Auburn, then Missouri can get back on track quickly in conference play.
“We know that if we won two or three of those games we gave away on the road last year, we’d be in the top one or two (in the SEC),” Brown said. “We’re encouraged by that and we understand that, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be up there.”
It comes down to toughness and execution.
“The biggest thing that happened at N.C. State was, when we got down, we didn’t get away from the game plan,” Brown said. “We kept running offense and trying to get the shots that we wanted to get. I felt like we didn’t do that at times last year. It was more a one person gets the ball and takes a shot type of thing. As long as we stick to the game plan, I feel like we’ll be all right even knowing teams are going to have some runs.”
Missouri feels better equipped to deal with the perils of road play as a result of the tough lessons it endured last season.
“Last year, that feeling going into the locker room after a road loss was terrible,” Rosburg said. “We had so many different meetings trying to figure it out. This year, we kind of have a fresh mind-set. The N.C. State game was a great feeling, knowing that we can do it. It gave us confidence. We put together what you need to do to win on the road, so now we know what’s expected and what we can do.”