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Poor Start in SEC Play Means Missouri is Hungry for a Win in Morgantown

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Prior to conference play, the University of Missouri basketball team had an 8-4 record. After a terrible 1-5 start in the SEC, the Tigers now sit at 9-9 and are desperate for a win in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in Morgantown Saturday.

No. 14 West Virginia (15-3, 4-2 Big 12) will be looking to avoid the upset, after being upset by Kansas State last Saturday, another team that was desperate for a win.

Mizzou head coach Cuonzo Martin said his main concerns facing WVU are the Mountaineers’ defense and the two big men Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe.

“Like all of (Bob Huggins’s) teams, they do a great job defending. They do a good job of pressuring you, of being physical. It’s not wild, there’s a method to it,” Martin said. “Both of his big guys…they do a good job of moving their feet, staying with the ball, staying active, active hands and they’re physical.”

Martin said his main priority will be trying to make life hard for Culver and Tshiebwe during the game.

“So you have two physical guys that are athletic, that are mobile and they do a tremendous job at rebounding. They probably hope their guards miss shots on the perimeter so they can rebound it,” Martin said. “I think the key for (beating) them is find a way to keep their bigs off the glass, not allowing them to get easy post touches around the rim because it puts so much pressure on your defense if those bigs are playing in comfort.”

The Tigers have primarily been a defensive team this season, averaging only 67.1 points per game as a team, but holding opponents to 61.6 points. They have also held their opponents to under 40% shooting from the floor (39.5%) and exactly at 30% from three.

Mizzou’s leading scorers are juniors guards Dru Smith (12.1 points per game) and Marth Smith (11.8). Dru leads the team with 4.3 assists per game while Mark is far and away the best three-point shooter, making 47 threes on 39.2% shooting.

The Tiger’s leading big man, Jeremiah Tilmon has been out with a stress fracture in his foot since Jan. 4. Martin said Tilmon has been working out but does not know when he will return. Senior Reed Nikko has filled in for Tilmon. Since Tilmon’s injury, Reed has averaged 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Missouri is not a great rebounding team, averaging only 34.8 rebounds per game and no single player averages more than five per game. The Tigers rank 10th in the SEC in rebounding.

West Virginia is 1-5 all-time in the Big 12/SEC Challenge with the only win coming in 2017 against Texas A&M. The Mountaineers lost to Missouri in the challenge during the 2013-14 season.

Tip-off from the WVU Coliseum is set for noon and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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Cody spent the last two years getting his master's degree in journalism from WVU. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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