Missouri focused on SEC Tournament

Jabari Brown of Missouri drives to the basket during Saturday’s game against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.

Jabari Brown of Missouri drives to the basket during Saturday’s game against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — Missouri’s first season in the Southeastern Conference didn’t exactly play out like it was scripted.

Five conference losses that came down to the final possession and a sixth-place finish in a league many experts thought Missouri could compete for a title in seemed to leave a disappointed taste in the mouth of some Tiger players.

But with the regular season complete, the Tigers seemed ready to flip the page to the postseason, where they realize there is plenty still on the table.

“You can’t do anything about something that’s already done,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said as the Tigers begin preparations for the SEC Tournament that begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. “All you can do is get better from it. We have had games, Bucknell and Illinois to name a few, and Florida, where we had really solid execution down the stretch. I think that when you look at our team, we’re in a lot of games. It tells you how good you can be.”

Missouri (22-9, 11-7 SEC) seemed ready to move forward from the regular season Monday after dropping a 64-62 decision Saturday at Tennessee. It was a finish that summed up Missouri’s regular season — a close loss on the road with a chance to win in the final seconds.

Point guard Phil Pressey took an ill-advised 3-pointer with Missouri down by 3 and less than 20 seconds remaining. His air ball allowed Tennessee to hang on, and improve its own chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament in the process.

Pressey has struggled in late-game situations this season. He missed a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer against LSU and had a costly turnover in a loss to Texas A&M. Saturday against Tennessee, the Tigers were once again unable to close out a close game.

“He knows he should have attacked and made a play before, where he got to the basket,” Haith said of Pressey.

Haith added: “Great point guards have a great feel to make plays. You’ve just got to be consistent in him doing what we want him to do. I think Phil does that. I think there’s sometimes instincts are important. He has made a lot of good, right decisions in his career. I feel what Phil needs to continue to do is just believe in himself and trust what he’s doing and not become passive or gun-shy.”

Pressey was not made available for comment Monday nor after Saturday’s game.

Up until the final minutes against Tennessee, Missouri had seemed to put things together at the end of the season, having won three in a row for the first time during the conference season.

Saturday’s loss proved how thin of a margin Missouri had in SEC play though. The loss pushed Missouri into the No. 6 seed for the SEC Tournament. When play started Saturday, Missouri could have finished anywhere from second to sixth in the conference.

“I like where our team is,” Haith said. “Laurence Bowers is healthy, he’s playing great. He had not been playing great and we were still kind of figuring it all out. Now he’s playing great and playing at his best. ... I like where we are in terms of who we are as a basketball team.”

Bowers said it’s “Obvious the team is better in certain areas,” but as the Tigers prepare for the postseason, he said it was clear the team didn’t finish the regular season like it had hoped to.

“Obviously we finished sixth in the SEC, and I’d say that’s underachieving,” Bowers said. “We definitely need to come out and perform at a higher level and win games and prove we’re the better team than we showed.”

Notes: Missouri has a bye in the first round and will take on the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 14 Auburn at 9 p.m. Thursday. If Missouri wins Thursday, it would take on No. 3 Mississippi at 9 p.m. Friday ... Missouri is 3-1 in neutral court games this season with wins against Stanford, Virginia Commonwealth and Illinois. Missouri’s only neutral-court loss came against Louisville.

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