By the Associated Press
Frank Haith, right, huddles with the team during a time out in the Auburn game. Missouri is 14-0 at home and winless on the road.
Frank Haith believes Missouri has played a lot better its last two road games. The bottom line remains: zero wins.
The Tigers (17-6, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) are 14-0 at Mizzou Arena this season, and are an outstanding 81-4 the last five seasons. They’re 0-5 on the road and will be the visitors four of the next five games, starting Wednesday night at Mississippi State.
Missouri was No. 15 in the preseason poll, rose to No. 7 after beating Illinois in St. Louis in December, and still has an appealing No. 33 RPI rating. But it’s out of the Top 25 this week after losses, better showing or not, in a span of three games at SEC also-rans LSU and Texas A&M.
After a 21-point victory over Mississippi on Saturday, responding to a 15-point loss at Oxford, Miss., last month, Haith referred to the home-road disparity as a “$50 million question.”
“We’ve got to taste having some success,” Missouri’s second-year coach said.
Mississippi State (7-15, 2-8) is at the bottom of the SEC and appears to offer an end to the road drought. Whomever the opponent, Haith said the keys will be mental and physical toughness.
“Obviously, winning on the road is hard,” Haith said. “There’s some things that we’re going to look into in terms of getting our guys focused. But it’s all the same. It’s just a matter of our guys understanding.”
Typically, it’s been a game of catch-up on the road. Missouri trailed by 15 in the second half at Texas A&M, rallied to tie it with about two minutes and lost by two when Phil Pressey missed a 3-pointer going for the win. Mississippi led all the way the first meeting against a team minus injured Laurence Bowers and the Tigers shot just 32 percent at Florida, which led by 17 at the half.
“Once you get that first one, I feel it’s all going to fall into place,” Pressey said. “Right now, we’re just finding all the right ways to lose a game. So once we win that one, I feel like it will all come together.”
Pressey, the SEC preseason player of the year, has been the lone holdover starter from a 30-5 team that earned Haith national coach of the year honors. Other handicaps: Bowers missed five games with a knee injury and Mike Dixon, one of the nation’s best sixth men, announced he’d transfer in December after two sexual assault claims became public.
Haith rebuilt the roster around transfers, and has shortened his rotation to seven players in recent games, with playing time drastically reduced for a trio of freshmen, guard Negus Webster-Chan, forward Stefan Jankovic and center Ryan Rosburg. Many of the core seven have misfired on the road.
Pressey had 10 turnovers at Florida, seven at Texas A&M and five at Mississippi. He rebounded with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists with just one turnover in the Ole Miss rematch.
“I always tell guys, just trust in Phil, man, because Phil will find you,” forward Alex Oriakhi said. “He’ll get you the ball.”
Oriakhi has been a force at home with four double-doubles in conference play, but totaled nine points and 11 boards at Ole Miss, Florida and LSU. Jabari Brown is a 33-percent shooter on the road in SEC play and Earnest Ross is 6-for-21
“It’s just staying focused, man,” Ross said. “As long as we stay focused, I think that we’ll be a way better team on the road than we are. You know, sometimes we tend to fall off, and that’s what coach Haith talks about when he talks about listening.”