Martin wants Mizzou to recapture unselfish play
COLUMBIA, MO. • If it didn’t say MIZZOU splashed across the players’ black jerseys, Cuonzo Martin might not have recognized the team on the court Saturday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. At least not for the first 10 minutes or so.
In a deeper, more balanced Southeastern Conference, Martin’s Tigers were probably bound to lose eventually, but he was troubled by his team’s play early in the 64-63 loss at Louisiana State, especially on the offensive end. The crisp ball movement wasn’t there. The selfless decision-making was absent. Neither team pulled away from the other, but Martin’s Tigers got away from the script that directed their five-game winning streak.
Leading scorer and graduate senior Kassius Robertson, the team’s elder statesman and in-house expert on the pulse of the locker room, said Mizzou played “selfishly.”
With two days to reflect on the outcome, Martin didn’t disagree with that assessment
“More than anything it’s moving the ball well offensively the first five, 10 minutes,” he said Monday, “sharing the basketball, making the right plays.”
The Tigers (18-9, 8-6 SEC) have four regular-season games left to recapture the style that propelled them near the top of the conference standings. With last place Ole Miss (11-16, 4-10) visiting Mizzou Arena for Tuesday’s 8 p.m. tipoff, the Tigers are in a four-way jam for third place, still with a strong chance for a top-four finish and a double bye in the SEC tournament. Multiple projections have Martin’s team entrenched in the NCAA Tournament — ESPN.com and CBSSports.com both have Mizzou as a No. 7 seed in the bracket — but the Tigers can polish their credentials the next two weeks against a favorable schedule. Among the top eight teams in the SEC, the Tigers play the lightest schedule, facing four teams with a collective league record of 24-32.
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Ole Miss visits Columbia on a seven-game losing streak and now without its longtime coach. Andy Kennedy announced last week he’d step down at season’s end but instead decided Sunday to leave the Rebels immediately. Assistant coach Tony Madlock will coach the Rebels at Mizzou Arena, marking the first time in 12 years Kennedy won’t be on the Ole Miss sideline.
“A.K.’s a great guy,” Madlock said Monday. “He’s taught me so much and given me the opportunity to work under him. He told me to be myself and let my instincts take over. It’s a tough situation, but hey, it’s what we’ve been dealt and we’ll deal with it.”
Martin doesn’t expect any curveballs from the Rebels under Madlock, a career assistant who’s spent the last four seasons in Oxford.
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“They have the blueprint,” Martin said. “Tony’s been around Andy for a long time. He knows what he’s doing. He’s been in this game for quite a while. He’s battle tested. And he knows his team, so it’s not like they’re bringing in a coach who doesn’t know the personnel. He understands that.”
As for his team, Martin’s Tigers have built their NCAA profile behind sturdy defense and efficient, unselfish offense. They got away from that blueprint Saturday. Mizzou didn’t record its first assist until more than 10 minutes had come off the clock and during a six-minute stretch missed nine of 11 shots. For the season the Tigers have averaged an assist on 57 percent of their field goals, which ranks No. 73 among all Division I teams and third in the SEC. In the first half Saturday, that average was down to just 33.3 percent.
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It didn’t help that freshman center Jeremiah Tilmon had his worst offensive game of the season. Tilmon had been sick heading into the game — Martin said he was dehydrated — but still managed to log 22 minutes on the court, when he wasn’t chugging water on the sideline. For just the third time all season he didn’t connect on a field goal attempt, finishing 0 for 6 with only a free throw and one rebound.
“LSU won the game, but I give Jeremiah credit for getting out there and trying to play in that game,” Martin said. “He battled through it and came up short. He’ll be ready to go (Tuesday) night.”
With four games left before postseason play tips off, Martin believes Saturday’s loss can reset the course the Tigers had mapped before Saturday’s setback.
“When there’s a level of comfort guys lose sight of what got you to the point of having success,” he said. “That’s what happens. I think the guys will be fine.”