Norfolk State loss not on minds of Missouri

Kyle O’Quinn of Norfolk State hugs Missouri’s Phil Pressey after Norfolk State’s 86-84 NCAA Tournament win last year in Omaha, Neb.

Kyle O’Quinn of Norfolk State hugs Missouri’s Phil Pressey after Norfolk State’s 86-84 NCAA Tournament win last year in Omaha, Neb. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — The question was posed to Missouri head coach Frank Haith in a multitude of ways Sunday evening. It wasn’t much of a surprise. In fact, it was even inevitable.

What can the Tigers learn from their early exit in last year’s NCAA Tournament?

If you recall, second-seeded Missouri succumbed 86-84 to 15th-seeded Norfolk State in the Round of 64, an upset of historic proportions. Only six No. 2 seeds have ever fallen victim to No. 15 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Haith was quick to interject with a felicitous reminder — only one player currently on Missouri’s roster even played in that Norfolk State game.

“The only guy that played in that game is Phil Pressey,” Haith said.

The diminutive point guard had himself quite a game against Norfolk State, pouring in 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. That only miss was a last-gasp heave at the buzzer that rimmed out. Then a sophomore, Pressey dished out a game-high eight assists and committed only three turnovers in 34 minutes of play.

Laurence Bowers sat out last season with an ACL tear and the rest of Missouri’s roster consists of transfers or freshmen.

“It’s a different team and we’re going to go at it,” Haith said.

So while a new-look Missouri team gets ready to take on Colorado State in the 8-9 game at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. (TBS-TV), only Pressey and Haith can really appreciate any lessons learned from last season’s loss.

“You just have to be ready,” Pressey said. “It doesn’t matter who you play, anybody can be beat. Everybody brings their ‘A’ game come the NCAA Tournament. Everybody has that dream of winning the whole thing. Our mindset is that we’re going to win the whole thing, so we’re going to bring our ‘A’ game just like everybody else.”

Said Haith: “It’s all about matchups. Last year’s game, we were small and they were big. You look at the numbers and we didn’t play poorly offensively. We shot over 50 percent from 3. They played the game of their lives.

“You’ve got to be prepared for that in the tournament setting. That’s what this tournament is all about, guys living out their dream and making that One Shining Moment. We’ve just to focus on Colorado State and go out and play our best basketball.”

Other than Pressey, only two other Tigers even have NCAA Tournament experience — Bowers and Alex Oriakhi.

Bowers played in the 2011 tournament along with Pressey, where 11th-seeded Missouri dropped a 78-63 decision to sixth-seeded Cincinnati in the first round. Bowers also was part of the 2010 team that defeated Clemson in the first round before falling to West Virginia in the Round of 32.

Oriakhi won a national championship with Connecticut in 2011 and played in the Huskies’ first-round loss to Iowa State last season.

Aside from that trio, the NCAA Tournament will be a new experience for these Tigers.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t played in the tournament, like Keion Bell and Earnest Ross,” Haith said. “They’re extremely excited about the opportunity to play and get to compete when the lights are the brightest.”

As a veteran with the most experience in the NCAA Tournament, Oriakhi passed on some advice to the Big Dance neophytes.

“I just tell them you’re fortunate to get past the first one,” he said. “The rest of them are very hard. “You’re going to play extremely talented, extremely good teams. All I told them is to take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one possession at a time. Don’t think too far ahead. I wouldn’t count anybody out in any of these tournaments.”

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