Despite postseason ban, Missouri men’s basketball stays focused

Ryan Rosburg: “I have to make the most of what we’re given.”
Freshman forward Kevin Puryear (24) rebounds the ball with help from sophomore forward D’Angelo Allen (5) and freshman guard Cullen Vanleer (33) against the Auburn Tigers on Jan. 9, 2016, in Mizzou Arena. Missouri won 76-61, and Allen’s presence on the court help to push the team to their first Southeastern Conference victory.

Last Saturday, as the Missouri men’s basketball team took on No. 19 South Carolina on the road, one thing was clear: The Tigers weren’t giving in. The final score may have been 81-72, but the fight coach Kim Anderson’s players had put up was respectable, considering the news they’d been hit with just days before.

“On the heels of the week and everything that’s happened, Anderson said on the Tiger Radio Network, “I was really proud of these guys.”

The “week” he was referring to was not only the 33-point loss at the hands of Arkansas last Tuesday, but also to the announcement that the program would be self-imposing penalties that came from a number of different NCAA violations, such as players accepting impermissible benefits during the Frank Haith era.

Among the penalties, the Tigers will be forfeiting this year’s postseason play, including the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as losing two scholarships — one of which must be incurred this year.

“I’m not going to lie to you, for the sake of everyone involved, I’m glad a resolution is nearing,” Anderson said last week.

Junior guard Wes Clark led the Tigers on Saturday, putting up a career-high 26 points, and Mizzou kept the game tight, getting within four points at one point in the second half. Sure, the game would go down as a loss, but the Tigers’ fight was there, despite the fact that, no matter what the record reads at the end of the season, they will not get a shot at any sort of title.

“I don’t necessarily like (the penalties), just because of the impact it has on our current student-athletes,” Anderson said. “They’re the ones that are most affected. But given the circumstance … all of us felt like we needed to take this responsibility, self-impose and then move forward as quickly as possible.”

And that’s what the Tigers seem to be doing — moving on “as quickly as possible.” An already tough season has been made tougher, but they won’t wallow, they won’t complain and they won’t give up.

But that won’t make it any less painful. Particularly for forward Ryan Rosburg, the only senior on the team, this is just another blow to add onto a difficult career in every sense of the word.

Not only has he spent his last four years on a mostly rebuilding team with unimpressive records, multiple coaches and tons of transfers — both in and out — but now, after only experiencing one NCAA tournament (his freshman year), he won’t get a chance at a final hurrah.

“It hurts, because I feel like I’m punished the most,” Rosburg said. “And I wasn’t involved.

“Obviously not playing in the SEC tournament is tough and a hard pill to swallow,” Rosburg said. “I had a lot of family that was making reservations and flights to see my last couple games. That hurts, but I have to make the most of what we’re given.”

And that’s what the Tigers will look to accomplish with the little basketball they have left to play this year — make the most of it. It won’t even matter if they win out in terms of a historic season for the program, but they’ll persevere for the sake of their pride.

Missouri will need to “reset your goals,” as Anderson said last week, making it a point to improve as a team, and an individual, as well as “having the opportunity to be a spoiler” to their SEC opponents, but the focus will return to one key aspect of the process: basketball.

“We’re going to stay a family and get through this process,” freshman guard Terrence Phillips said. “We’re going to grow and get better in every practice and every game.”

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