No. 17 Missouri hits the road to face Texas A&M

NCAA Basketball

The No. 17 Missouri Tigers return from their COVID-19 shutdown to face host Texas A&M in a Southeastern Conference game on Saturday in College Station, Texas.

The Tigers (7-2 overall, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) haven’t played since they fell at Mississippi State 78-63 on Jan. 5. Their home games against LSU and Vanderbilt were postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak within the program.

“Guys seem to be in good shape considering,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said Thursday. “I’ve been in leagues where you had a week off so I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Often times you’re playing a lot of games and that takes a toll on your body, playing consecutive games.”

The Aggies (7-4, 2-3) are coming off their 56-55 victory Wednesday night at Mississippi State. Texas A&M trailed 40-27 in the second half before rallying.

“I thought it was the most together we have played relative to the recipe that is required of us to be in a game,” Aggies coach Buzz Williams said after the game. “It at least gave us a chance, because we knew that was our only choice.”

Now, the Aggies will try to bring that deliberate offense and tough defense against the Tigers at Reed Arena.

“Can we take the second half and can we take a baby step from the end of the game?” Williams questioned. “Or are we going to go back and start the way the game started?”

“I hope that [the] second half will be an acceptance, similar to what our team did last year,” he added. “They finally accepted what the margin was. And they said this is the only way this is going to work.”

While the Aggies had a great second half at Mississippi State, the Tigers had a terrific first half in Starkville while building a 39-27 lead.

“I thought we had one of our better first halves since I’ve been coaching,” Martin said. “Just the ball movement, a lot on both sides of the ball . . . What you saw on both sides of the ball I thought was great.”

Then the game got away from them.

The Tigers will try to rebound by running more offense through center Jeremiah Tilmon, who scored 41 points in his last two games after scoring in double figures just twice in his first seven games.

Tigers point guard Xavier Pinson is averaging 14.8 points and 3.8 assists. He scored 36 points and earned 12 assists in his last two games.

But fellow guards Mark Smith (11.9 points per game) and Dru Smith (11.3) have struggled lately. Each produced single-digit scoring in three of their last four games

And executing on offense won’t get any easier against the Aggies in College Station.

“They do a great job of sprinting you off the three-point line, so it’s the next thing,” Martin said. “You have stay aggressive start to finish. You can’t be passive. It’s a physical game. You know what you’re getting when you play against them. You better be battle-tested, you better strap on your helmet.”

Emanuel Miller leads the Aggies with 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Guard Quenton Jackson (11.5 ppg) is the only other scorer averaging in double figures.

Texas A&M has scored more than 56 points just once in SEC play this season.

–Field Level Media

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