Mizzou knows it needs to get tougher on the road

Story by Matthew Fairburn

Coach Frank Haith's Missouri squad is undefeated at home but struggling to find the winning formula on the road. Feb. 2, 2013, at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. Photo by Karen Mitchell.

Coach Frank Haith’s Missouri squad is undefeated at home but struggling to find the winning formula on the road. Photo by Karen Mitchell.

Frank Haith and the Missouri men’s basketball team have heard the question enough times and seem to be running out of answers.

Why can’t the Tigers, who are ranked No. 21 in the nation and have won 16 games this season, win a game away from Mizzou Arena?

“Winning on the road is hard,” Haith said at the team’s media day on Monday. “I saw a study of all sporting events, and winning on the road in college basketball is the toughest thing. I mean it’s hard.”

Missouri is 0-4 on the road this season, including 0-3 in the SEC. After losing road games at Florida and Ole Miss by a combined 46 points, Missouri again faltered on the road last week, losing to LSU

“I think when you look at our road games, we’ve gotten off to poor starts,” Haith said. “We’ve gotten ourselves in trouble with taking quick shots.”

“That puts so much pressure on our transition defense, and that’s what has gotten us in trouble on the road.”

The Tigers also need to stay out of foul trouble, Haith said. He singled out senior forward Alex Oriakhi as a player that needs to stay on the floor for the team to be successful. Oriakhi is averaging just 3.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per road game this season.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” Oriakhi said.

“After the game (against Auburn), coach Fuller said whatever we do at home, we have to bottle it up and drink it and do it on the road. I think we do a lot of great things at home, now we just have to carry it over.”

While Missouri has struggled on the road, the team has also battled injuries for most of the season. Saturday’s win over Auburn was just the third game all season in which the Tigers have had their full lineup. They are 3-0 in those games.

“You just have to weather the storm a little bit and keep your guys up, knowing that we have a lot of season ahead of us,” Haith said.

“Everybody’s goal is to be playing their best in February and March,” Haith said. “I think the way you do that is just keep coaching and keep them positive.”

Today’s game at Texas A&M will be another road test for Missouri. But the Tigers (16-5, 5-3) are familiar with the Aggies (13-8, 3-5), having won both meetings between the two teams in the Big 12 last season.

Phil Pressey, a Texas native, is the only player on the Tigers’ roster that played in those two wins a year ago. While the junior point guard recognizes the challenges of playing on the road, he feels added responsibility to get his team focused.

“With any team, having that same mindset, same energy, and same passion every single game is kind of hard to do, home and away,” Pressey said.

“On the road it’s a lot harder. It’s a new place, a new arena,” Pressey added. “You don’t have your fans on your side and it gets loud in there. A lot of things go against you. As a captain, I have to pull everybody together and make sure we’re on the same page.”

Haith doesn’t feel the pressure to get the first road win. He’s more focused on the big picture.

“I think you have to look at big picture, and that’s what we’ve tried to do with our team,” Haith said.  “You have to keep that process going in terms of learning and getting better, knowing that if things fall in place and we get better, we’ll have a chance to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”

Thursday’s game is scheduled for 8 p.m. and will be aired live on ESPN 2.

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