Thursday March 13, 2014 Missouri playing for its NCAA Tournament life vs. Gators
Updated: 6:14pm, March 13
Updated: 6:14pm, March 13
ATLANTA -- It's understandable why Missouri coach Frank Haith and Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy viewed Missouri's 91-83 win in double overtime here differently Thursday.
Haith's Tigers advanced to face the No. 1-ranked Gators on Friday (1 p.m./ESPNU) while the Aggies' were sent packing from the SEC Tournament.
Two huge differences jumped out immediately on the stat sheet: Missouri outrebounded Texas A&M 48-28, and the Tigers shot 53 free throws.
"I'm all for the new rules, but you've got to be kidding me,'' Kennedy said of Missouri's 53 trips to the line. "Their guys get into the lane and they make it hard for you. Your post guys have to rotate. Missouri is a dangerous team because they can score."
By the end of Thursday's loss, Kennedy had four players, including three starters, on the bench because they fouled out.
Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson is a player the Gators will keep a close eye on Friday.
Meanwhile, Haith was optimistic after his team spread the floor and drove to the basket when they had scoring lanes. That's the way the Tigers play when at their best like during a 10-game win streak to open the season.
"It was great to see. We spent a lot of time talking about that,'' Haith said. "I thought we were back on track offensively."
In Missouri's first meeting against Florida -- a 68-58 loss at the O'Dome on Feb. 4 -- the Tigers got it done for a while. The game was tied 12 times, the last at 45-45 with a little over nine minutes left.
Then Florida's defense clamped down.
Missouri led 28-25 at halftime before the Gators exploded for 43 second-half points. The Gators won behind their disruptive defense, four 3-pointers from Michael Frazier and 19 points from Scottie Wilbekin (13 of 16 free throws).
"If we continue to score, we could have made it interesting,'' Haith said Thursday. "We've got to have a 40-minute game plan against them. They are the best team in the country. We are the only team in the country that has this opportunity tomorrow, so we've got to look forward to it."
If concerned about needing two overtimes to knock off the Aggies, Haith wasn't going there. Asked how that might impact his team Friday, Haith used the well-worn "nobody is going to feel sorry for us."
He's right. The Gators are fresh off becoming the only SEC team in history to finish 18-0 in the conference and are chasing their first SEC Tournament title in seven years.
The biggest challenge the Tigers present is the guard trio of Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross. Brown scored 26 points Thursday, Ross scored 24 and Clarkson added 12.
If the Tigers are going to pull an upset and get off the NCAA bubble -- most project Missouri as one of the first teams out of the NCAA Tournament if they don't beat the Gators -- Brown, Clarkson and Ross will need to produce points.
"That's why Missouri is a tough out,'' Kennedy said. "They've got three guys who can get you 20 any time."
Ross is the only senior in Missouri's starting lineup. He had a miserable game in Gainesville, shooting 1-for-8 with four points and two turnovers.
He wants to make the NCAA Tournament his final season and understands how a win over the nation's No. 1 team would provide a huge push in the right direction.
"I think we gave everything we had in the first half [in our first meeting],'' Ross said. "In the second half we came out a little slower than normal, but for us to be able to get a second chance at them in the SEC Tournament, at a neutral site, is a good chance for us to showcase what we do."
Added Brown: "Everybody is playing for their lives,'' he said.
Record: 22-10, 9-9 SEC regular season
Player to watch: Junior G Jabari Brown, a first-team All-SEC selection. Brown averaged 19.7 points and 4.5 rebounds and failed to score in double-figures just once all season -- a 72-45 loss at Tennessee in the regular-season finale Saturday.
Worth noting: Brown, G Jordan Clarkson (18.1) and G Earnest Ross (13.5) are the nation's second-leading trio behind VMI's QJ Peterson (19.4), D.J. Covington (18.7) and Rodney Glasgow (18.4).
History: Missouri has won 20 or more games for six consecutive seasons, a school record.