COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri men's basketball team will look to snap its first losing streak of the season on the road, as the No. 20 Tigers take on South Carolina at 1 p.m. today on ESPN2.
Missouri (13-6, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) has lost three straight, including its last two road games, while the Gamecocks (5-10, 3-8) have lost five straight and eight of their last 10, which includes an 81-70 loss to the Tigers on Jan. 19 at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers will have senior center Jeremiah Tilmon today. Tilmon is expected to play after stepping away a week ago for personal leave after a death in his family.
"That's solely him," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said Friday of Tilmon's return. "You're talking sport, and then you're talking family. That takes precedent over anything we doing here, and that's his time. I just happen to be the figurehead in the program as the head coach, but it's not my decision."
Tilmon, who has averaged 13.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in conference play, was missed not just for his contributions statistically but for his poise and experience.
South Carolina will be without at least one starter today, after both guard/forward Jermaine Couisnard and power forward Justin Minaya missed the Tennessee game earlier this week.
Speaking on his weekly radio show, Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said Couisnard won't play today, while Minaya "may get to play" and is likely questionable. Couisnard has averaged 9.7 points, three rebounds and a team-high 3.6 assists per game in 14 starts, while Minaya averages 8.1 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds.
The Tigers will still have to contend with AJ Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant, South Carolina's high-scoring leading duo. Bryant had 19 points, five rebounds and two blocks in the last meeting, while Lawson was held to five points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Lawson averages a team-high 18 points per game for the Gamecocks, but without Lawson and potentially Minaya, he is the team's only regular 3-point shooter, converting on 36.5 percent of his attempts.
"With him, you have to do a great job of really trying to limit his catches," Martin said. "When he catches, he's a threat and he straight-line drives you hard, he's an athlete around the rim so he can dunk the ball on you, make plays."
After three wins against top-6 teams earlier in the season, Missouri has suffered a series of head-scratching performances in the second half of games, escaping with a win against No. 10 Alabama but not getting so lucky against Mississippi and Georgia.
Martin said he thought one issue was some players seeing a second-half lead and taking shots they might not otherwise, in the first half or crunch time late in games, because they were comfortable with the lead.
"The simple thing of it all is just, how we got the lead, let's maintain it and let's finish the game that way," he said.
Another problem Martin pointed to was substitution patterns, leaving guys in a series or two too long and leaving them gassed.
"From a staff standpoint, I think maybe a guy here playing a minute too long," Martin said. "Not that he's lacking, but a minute too long, exhausted, that extra drive when he was healthy and energized, he drove strong. Now, he passed up a shot or shot a pull-up, off balance shot, that sort of thing, so it's a lot of little things like that I think certainly can be corrected. And probably, you know, fresh legs here and there, I think that'll help."
Missouri is scheduled to honor five seniors before next Saturday's Texas A&M game, which is the team's last scheduled home game. The Tigers are still scheduled to host LSU and Vanderbilt, and will likely play at least one of those games before the SEC Tournament begins March 10, but will honor Tilmon, Mitchell Smith, Drew Buggs, Mark Smith and Dru Smith against the Aggies just in case.
The ceremony will be held after the game, so fans in attendance are encouraged to remain in their seats if they want to catch the ceremonies.
According to a program spokesperson, not every senior has made up their mind about potentially returning. The NCAA will allow all winter sports athletes an added year of eligibility and seniors' scholarships will not count against team limits this year, but Missouri will honor all five seniors regardless.