COLUMBIA, Mo. — Losses pile up with minutes for Missouri’s beleaguered basketball team. The Tigers play their fourth game in eight days on Tuesday when the Tennessee No. 17 visits Mizzou Arena, the end of a work week that is sure to test the legs of the understaffed Tigers, perhaps their will .
With just eight healthy players available over the past two weeks, Mizzou (10-17, 4-10 Southeastern Conference) doesn’t have the luxury of resting or booking when the Volunteers (19- 7, 10-4). Going into the 6 p.m. game against one of the country’s elite defensive teams, coach Cuonzo Martin’s leading players have recorded heavy minutes in the last three losses.
Senior guard Javon Pickett, whose missed 3-pointer won Sunday’s loss to Mississippi State, has played 35 minutes in each of the last three games, for a record 105 minutes in this one-shot week. . Junior forward Kobe Brown is right behind him at 92 minutes, followed by junior guard Boogie Coleman (90) and sophomore forward Ronnie DeGray III (84).
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Injuries reduced the Tigers’ bench to just three players. Freshman Yaya Keita, part of the rotation at center and power forward, is out for the year after undergoing knee surgery last week. Freshman point guard Anton Brookshire hadn’t seen much ground in conference play, but he missed the last four games with a wrist injury. Second-year center Jordan Wilmore was out for several weeks with a back injury.
Earlier this year, first-year guard Sean Durugordon left the team and entered the NCAA transfer portal. The Tigers opened the season with 12 players, one shy of the scholarship limit, and added no extras to the roster.
” It is what it is. You don’t have time to apologize,” Martin said after the Tigers’ 58-56 loss Sunday to Mississippi State, their second loss to MSU in 48 hours. “We will not train on Monday. We are going to watch a movie, (take) a guided tour and get ready to play on Tuesday. It is what it is. The guys logged a lot of minutes.
The Tigers hosted No. 18 Arkansas last Tuesday and then played Mississippi State twice over the weekend, including a catch-up game from a postponed contest last month. By now, the Tigers should be used to the routine of quick turnovers at the start of the week. SEC teams regularly play conference games every Saturday, then Tuesday or Wednesday. Six of MU’s nine midweek SEC games fall on Tuesdays this season.
“It’s a big challenge,” Brown said. “We have to come here and take the recovery seriously, maybe two or three times a day if possible. It’s really important to take care of your body, what you eat, what you do, sleep, because you know that one day it’s a big turnaround, especially at this level and playing too hard and run out of guys.
Then there is the mental challenge. The Tigers have only once celebrated back-to-back wins all season, and not since November. As the program’s uncertain future lingers for the rest of the season – Martin still has two years left on his contract but is overseeing the worst season of his five-year run – the players are trying to stay focused on what’s within their control.
“We just have to stick together, keep preparing for every game, attack every game the way we want and just defend,” Pickett said on Sunday. “We also have to shoot. I know I do. But keep doing what we’re doing and we just have to finish the games. We approach every game with confidence. We just have to keep going.
Tennessee, winner of five straight wins heading into Saturday’s loss to Arkansas, is playing its third game in the past eight days. The Vols rank fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and second in the SEC in points allowed per game. Their only loss was a sometimes stagnant offense. Villanova, Texas Tech, Texas and Arkansas have all held Tennessee to under 60 points — all games the Vols have lost.
“Our league is a terrific defensive league and it’s evident when you look at the numbers,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said Monday. “When I think of Coach Martin and his team, they play hard and are aggressive defensively. They will challenge passes and look for the ball. Anything to do with the effort, they’re going to do it at a high level, which is a testament to him and his program. They are playing their fourth game in (eight) days. I think these guys are young and can bounce back quickly. We’ll have to play well because it’s going to be a tough game like all those SEC games.