Players-only meeting brings Missouri men’s basketball closer together

The Tigers broke a three-game losing streak on Saturday in the other Columbia.

Faced with a three-game losing streak, a rapidly declining NCAA tournament seed projection and the possibility of dropping out of the AP Top 25, Missouri held a players-only meeting before its matchup with South Carolina.

The players kept certain details — for example, whose idea it was — in-house, but the goal of the meeting was clear.

“You just hope that you get everything out there,” redshirt senior guard Dru Smith said after the game. “Anything that’s been bugging anyone, anything that anyone has to say that they think can help us, we want to get it out in the air.”

The Tigers held the meeting in advance of what many considered a must-win game against the Gamecocks and on the heels of three brutal losses.

After one of those losses, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin justifiably questioned his players’ effort. Their most recent loss, which involved a blown 13-point lead, left the Tigers searching for answers.

“The mindset heading into the meeting is, you know, this is a team that we knew didn’t reflect who we were the past couple games,” guard Drew Buggs said on Monday. “This is a veteran group. We don’t have anybody who’s afraid to let each other know that we need to just pick it up and that we need to be better. We weren’t playing to the level we’re capable of.”

Many of the details, like what the team decided needed improvement or who got what off their chest, didn’t leave the building. Players did say that they searched for answers to the problems that got them there.

“Just try to understand where we’re struggling and what we need to get better at, and then figure out ways that we as a team — without the coaches — think that we can fix that and correct it,” Dru Smith said.

Whatever the team discussed at the meeting, it seemed to have worked — for now.

Getting senior forward Jeremiah Tilmon back helped. When a reporter asked assistant coach Marco Harris-Stevens what was different about Saturday’s game other than having Tilmon back, he responded, “having Jeremiah back.” That being said, the Tigers also played better team basketball throughout the game than they had in the previous three.

Crucially, they also didn’t fold when South Carolina started to come back.

“After the meeting, we all felt refreshed, and we felt ready to go and go out there and work on the things that we discussed in the meeting,” Buggs said. “And I think we did a good job showing that against South Carolina.”

While there were no reports, nor any reason to believe that the Tigers’ locker room began to fracture, Missouri’s players-only meeting appeared to have ended any inkling of disruption before it began.

“I feel like we just all refocused on our goal again,” forward Mitchell Smith said on Monday.

In the loss to Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi on Feb. 10 in particular, the Tigers sorely lacked focus. Tonight, Ole Miss comes to Columbia, and Missouri should face the Rebels as a more cohesive team than they were last time around.

“We were really a close group before this,” guard Mark Smith said after the game. “But now that we had that meeting, I feel like we’re even closer and I feel like you could definitely feel the differences out there on the court.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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