Mizzou faces familiar foe in SEC matchup
(AP) — Facing a familiar, struggling opponent from its old conference might help Missouri finally earn its first true road victory.
The No. 21 Tigers look to end that drought and hand Texas A&M a fourth consecutive home defeat in the programs’ first meeting as SEC members Thursday night.
Missouri (16-5, 5-3) is 13-0 at Mizzou Arena, including five conference wins by an average of 15.0 points while scoring 81.2 per game and shooting 49.3 percent.
It’s been a much different story on the road, where the Tigers will play five of the next seven.
Though Missouri was extremely competitive in its only true road game during non-conference play, losing 97-94 in overtime at UCLA on Dec. 28, it has not played nearly as well in three SEC games away from home. The Tigers have averaged 57.0 points and shot 35.9 percent in defeats at Mississippi, second-ranked Florida and LSU. Those three opponents averaged 73.3 points while shooting 51.3 percent.
“We have to bottle what we have when we play at home and take it on the road,” coach Frank Haith said. “We have good chemistry when we play at home, sharing the ball, and we have to get that done on the road.”
The Tigers have trailed by nine or more points at halftime in each of those SEC road contests.
“That comes from focus and energy and passion and all the things we have here when we play at home,” Haith said. “We’ve got to generate that.”
Missouri has another chance to get the road monkey off its collective back while looking to build on a 91-77 win over Auburn on Saturday. Keion Bell scored 24 in his return from a one-game absence with a sore shoulder, and transfer Earnest Ross added a season-high 23 off the bench against his former school as the Tigers shot 54.5 percent.
With Bell and leading scorer Laurence Bowers (16.1 points per game) healthy again, Missouri improved to 3-0 with its regular rotation.
“This is the first game since Dec. 22 that we’ve had our whole team,” said Haith, who spent two stints as an assistant at Texas A&M in the 1990s. “That’s what I look at. That’s a blessing.”
That also might not bode well for former Big 12 foe Texas A&M (13-8, 3-5) and coach Billy Kennedy, an assistant under Haith at Miami in 2005-06. Kennedy is wary of a Missouri team which has five players averaging at least 10.4 points – his Aggies have two.
“They’ve got maturity and talent,” he said of the Tigers. “They’ve got seven or eight guys that are capable of getting 20 every night.”
However, Phil Pressey is the only current Tiger who played when Missouri snapped an eight-game skid to the Aggies by winning both meetings in the teams’ last season as Big 12 members in 2011-12. The senior has totaled 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, in two games at Texas A&M.
The Aggies are 9-4 at home but dropped their third straight there Saturday, 72-68 in overtime to Kentucky. Elston Turner scored 21, but Texas A&M shot 39.3 percent while losing for the fifth time in six games overall.
Averaging a team-leading 15.7 points, Turner hopes for a better performance this time after he shot 2 of 10 – 1 of 6 from 3 – for seven points in last season’s 71-62 home loss to Missouri.