Preview: Missouri looks for first conference road win against Arkansas

The Tigers have won three of their last four games entering Saturday.
Missouri guards Xavier Pinson and Javon Pickett high-five during Missouri's win over Arkansas Feb. 8 at Mizzou Arena. Photo by Andrew Moore

Having won three of its last four games, Missouri men’s basketball heads into its matchup with Arkansas in a drastically different spot than where it was when it took on the Razorbacks for the first time this season. Before that game on Feb. 8, Missouri had two Southeastern Conference wins and was coming off a 17-point loss to Texas A&M. Now, the Tigers have crawled away from the bottom of the SEC and sit at .500 for the first time in three weeks.

There’s still one demon they haven’t slayed, though.

Despite its recent success, Missouri still doesn’t have a road SEC win. Its only road victory at all was against Temple on Dec. 7. Since then, the Tigers have lost seven straight games in enemy territory.

“We’re a team that’s played well off energy,” senior forward Reed Nikko said. “We gotta take the next step now and bring our own energy to games. We’ve just got to remember that we’re a team that can — or we have won on the road this year. We just gotta get back to it and kind of get one out of the way.”

Nikko had a solid game the last time the two teams met, putting up 11 points and 11 rebounds in Missouri’s overtime win. No one who has played for Arkansas this season is taller than 6-foot-8, giving Missouri an edge down low and putting pressure on tall players like Nikko to take advantage. Missouri did that in the last matchup, winning the rebounding battle 52-35.

“I think we just gotta be aggressive,” 6-foot-10 forward Mitchell Smith said. “We’ve just gotta go for boards because, I mean, they’re not tall. There’s not much length down there.”

In Arkansas, Missouri takes on a team whose season has played out in a way opposite its own. After a 15-2 start to the season, the Razorbacks have lost eight of their last 10 games. In that game, Missouri held Arkansas guard Mason Jones, the SEC leader in scoring, to 3-14 shooting. Containing him again will be key for Missouri.

“He can try to will his team to win basketball games,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Of course, he’s an elite scorer, you talk in a college basketball player. Goes right, goes left, can make pull-ups, can make three’s. Anytime you have a guy with that size attacking downhill, knows how to make free throws, he always puts pressure on the defense. He’s not a guy that relaxes.”

Missouri will still be without at least one of its top offensive weapons Saturday. Junior guard Mark Smith hasn’t played since Jan. 28 with an ankle injury and will remain sidelined, Martin said on Friday. Forward Jeremiah Tilmon, who has seen the court sparingly after suffering a stress fracture in his foot earlier, might play against Arkansas.

In the absence of two scorers, point guard Xavier Pinson has stepped up offensively. The sophomore has set new career highs in points in a game in three of his last four contests, most recently scoring 32 against Ole Miss on 9-13 shooting, including 4-4 from 3-point range.

“When X [Pinson] gets in his bag like that, there’s not much you can do,” Mitchell Smith said. “If you bite for those, he’s gonna go right past you. What he’s doing now is great for our team.”

After Arkansas, Missouri has another road game, taking on Vanderbilt on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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