COLUMBIA —After Missouri's 77-67 win against Vanderbilt a week ago, head coach Cuonzo Martin told reporters he had quit saying the word 'turnover' around his team for the remainder of the season.
During the team's preceding three-game losing streak, the Tigers (11-10, 2-7 Southeastern Conference) coughed the ball up 24 times against Arkansas, 17 times against LSU and 20 times at Auburn for a total of 61 turnovers in 125 minutes of game time. Missouri turned the ball over once every two minutes and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of .377 during the skid, though it was playing against two teams that are known for ball pressure and the last two games were without dependable sophomore guard Mark Smith.
So Martin, who felt that he and his staff weren't doing enough to help his players correct the issue, stopped saying the word as the team worked in practice on working through solutions.
The Tigers matched their season-low of nine turnovers in that Vanderbilt game, and then matched it again in a 12-point loss Tuesday at No. 1 Tennessee. Martin has stressed Missouri is capable of hanging with teams and winning games when it keeps turnovers down, and that has shown itself to be true in recent conference games. Players, especially the trio of freshman guards, have looked far more comfortable with the ball in the last two games.
Martin said Friday that Smith hadn't practiced with the team this week but didn't rule him out of Friday's practice or today's game. Jeremiah Tilmon, who was banged up against Tennessee, is fine according to Martin.
A third-straight game of single-digit turnovers would give the Tigers an better chance to beat Texas A&M and complete the season sweep of the Aggies (8-13, 1-8 SEC) today when the two teams tip at 5 p.m. on SEC Network.
"We've really been working on it in practice," Javon Pickett said. "We've always been working on it, but now we're just trying to minimize them by coming to the ball, meeting the ball more, making sure that the person is open. We're just being real careful with the ball right now."
If Missouri has figured some things out since the last time the two teams met, so has Texas A&M.
Junior Wendell Mitchell scored 23 points in Wednesday's 75-71 loss to Mississippi, the third time in five games he's surpassed the 20-point mark, and is averaging 18 points per game in the five games the Aggies have played since he scored four the last time the two teams met. Mitchell is now the team's leading average scorer as TJ Starks and Savion Flagg continue to struggle with consistency.
"I think they're playing better than when we played them at their place, it's evident, the Ole Miss game and the other games they've played," Martin said. "I think Mitchell has made great strides, you could see the first time we played he was a talented guy, could score the ball. Starks is Starks, Flagg is Flagg, and (Josh) Nebo is a physical presence around the rim."
The Aggies, who scored a season-low 43 points in the teams' last meeting and shot 4-for-22 from 3-point range, still struggle from deep as a team but posted a season-best 11-for-23 mark at Mississippi this week. Freshman Brandon Mahan was 6-of-7 and Mitchell was 3-of-7. Missouri can't count on Texas A&M missing as many shots as the Aggies did last time out, and Martin and the players said as much Friday, but it's also unlikely a team shooting 30 percent from deep will convert nearly 50 percent of its chances in back-to-back games, especially since the Tigers have one of the conference's best perimeter defenses.