Tigers want to break through tonight against Aggies

Missouri center Alex Oriahki has struggled in road games this season.

Missouri center Alex Oriahki has struggled in road games this season. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — College basketball coaches hope their teams are playing their best basketball in February and March.

Missouri is no different. In fact, as the Tigers head down the stretch run, that statement may have even more truth to it this year.

With the road being unkind to Missouri, the Tigers find themselves playing five of the next seven away from Mizzou Arena, beginning tonight at Texas A&M (8 p.m. ESPN2-TV).

“You’ve just got to weather the storm a little bit, but keeping guys up, and knowing we have a lot of season ahead of us,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Everybody’s goal is to be playing the best in February and March.”

Missouri’s struggles on the road are well documented. The Tigers are 0-4 in true road games, including three losses in Southeastern Conference play.

Once looking to be a certain lock for the NCAA Tournament and a strong contender to win the SEC, the Tigers’ struggles on the road have exposed flaws on a team that was once ranked in the top 10.

But tonight is another opportunity to put the road woes behind them.

A common thread to the conference road losses has been poor starts. No. 21 Missouri (16-5, 5-3 SEC) fell behind 11-0 to Florida, 9-0 to Mississippi and 22-10 to LSU. The Tigers never led in any of those games.

“You look at our road games and I think we have gotten off to poor starts,” Haith said. “We may have to script it a little bit in terms of what we want to do. We’ve gotten ourselves in trouble in terms of taking quick shots. I do think we are ready to play and get out there and we just take quick shots and it puts so much pressure on our transition defense, and that’s what’s gotten us in trouble on the road.”

The difference in some players’ numbers at home and on the road may defy explanation. Alex Oriakhi is averaging 15.2 points per game in five conference home games. In three roads games, he’s averaging 3.0.

“It’s a challenge for me,” Oriakhi said. “I’m looking forward to getting into this game and breaking these bad games I’ve been having on the road, and looking to do better.”

Earnest Ross is 16-of-27 from 3-point range at home in SEC play. but 1-of-8 in conference road games.

But the Tigers still have time to correct the issues, beginning with this current stretch.

One thing Missouri finally has going for it is health. Saturday’s win against Auburn was the first time since the Illinois game Dec. 22 the team has been fully healthy. In that stretch, the Tigers were without Laurence Bowers for five games, Keion Bell for two and Tony Criswell for three.

Criswell injured his hand against Auburn, but he returned to the game.

“They are going to x-ray to see the healing process where it’s at, but I do anticipate him competing (today),” Haith said about Criswell.

Texas A&M (13-8, 3-5 SEC) is 9-3 at home this season, but just 1-3 in SEC home games. The Aggies are led by guard Elston Turner, who is averaging 15.7 points per game.

“He has the ultimate green light No. 1, and when you have the ultimate green light, you play with a lot of freedom,” Haith said. “I think he’s very capable. He can shoot the ball, he’s good off the deck. Keion Bell, Jabari (Brown), Earnest (Ross), they are all going to have their work cut out for them guarding him.”

Fabyon Harris is the only other Aggie in double figures averaging 11 points per game.

The Aggies have had trouble scoring, averaging 63 points per game, 11th in the SEC.

“Everything we do goes through (Elston Turner),” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “For us, he’s the one guy who can score on a consistent basis and we’ve got to get him as many shots as possible. Our guys understand that.”

If Missouri can find a way to stop Turner, it could break its recent road hex.

“Winning on the road is hard,” Haith said. “I saw a study of all sporting events, winning college basketball games on the road is the toughest thing, it’s hard.”

Notes: Kennedy was an assistant under Haith at Miami during the 2005-06 season. … Missouri leads the all-time series 13-10, including a 2-0 mark last season. … Missouri hosts Mississippi at noon Saturday.

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