The Tigers will again be short-handed as their second-leading scorer, Antoine Mason, will not rejoin the team for the road trip. The senior guard is in New York City with his family after his father, Anthony Mason, died on Saturday from complications following a heart attack.
With another guard, Tahj Shamsid-Deen, out with his shoulder injuries, that likely means another start for freshman guard T.J. Lang as the Tigers look to sweep the season series vs. a Missouri team they defeated 85-79 on January 10th.
T.J. Lang is averaging 1.9 points and 1.0 rebounds per contest.
To end the losing streak the Tigers will need to pick up their defensive play, which has been the biggest issue in recent games, including Saturday’s 80-55 setback at Texas A&M.
Commenting on the rough stretch his team has hit, Pearl said, “It has been tough. It started at Kentucky and being so overwhelmed, and then coming back to LSU. I thought for the first time that maybe we couldn’t beat LSU as it was going on. It has been difficult.
“My biggest concern is that we game plan, and we put an enormous amount of pressure on the offense when we can’t get stops,” Pearl said. “We are not as engaged defensively as we need to be to win games. It is difficult to win if you can’t get stops or rebounds.”
Auburn will bring a 12-17 overall record and a 4-12 league mark into the contest that will be televised on the SEC Network. Missouri is 8-21 overall and 2-14 in the conference.
“Watching tape of Missouri, they are a talented and young team,” Pearl said. “The teams that have been able to beat them have been able to get stops. That is a real challenge. It (players missing) is affecting us more on the defensive end than anywhere else. Not having Tahj (Shamsid-Deen) is a factor. Not having Antoine Mason is a factor on offense. It has been really difficult.”
Pearl said he is trying to keep the team in a positive mood as the Tigers take on more talented opponents and the record continues to dip farther below the .500 mark. “My biggest thing is not taking it out on the kids,” he said. “It is not their fault that I wasn’t able to rebuild the roster in order to be competitive in the league. It is not their fault.
“We play best when everyone contributes and we have had way too many nights where we just haven’t had a lot of contribution,” the coach pointed out. “When you have an injury, there is an opportunity that presents itself. With Tahj being out, there is a greater opportunity for Malcolm (Canada) and K.C. (Ross-Miller) at the point guard position and at the backcourt.
“K.C. is also playing a little bit of the two position because Antoine (Mason) is out,” Pearl said. “That is a great opportunity for a player to be able to get more minutes and a greater responsibility. They have to take advantage of that opportunity.
“We understand that offensively, people are going to key...where they keyed on K.T. (Harrell), Cinmeon (Bowers) and Antoine, now they are keying on K.T. and Cinmeon. They make it harder for those guys to make plays. Therefore there are opportunities for the other guys to be able to make plays. That is what you hope will happen.”
Missouri is coming off of a 68-44 loss at Georgia and is led by 6-9, 225 sophomore forward Johnathan Williams, who is averaging 12.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Mizzou is expected to start 6-7 freshman D’Angelo Allen at the other forward spot. He is averaging 3.5 points and 3.2 rebounds. In the post 6-10 junior Ryan Rosburg is averaging 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds.
Namon Wright, a 6-5 freshman, is expected to start at guard and is averaging 6.4 points and 2.1 rebounds. Fifth-year senior Keith Shamburger, a 5-11 guard, is scoring 8.3 points with 3.3 rebounds per contest.
Auburn vs. Missouri: This is just the fourth time the teams have played in basketball. Mizzou leads the series 2-1.
Looking Ahead: Going into the final week of the regular season the Tigers are the No. 13 seed for the SEC Tournament that starts next week in Nashville. The way the standings are currently set the Tigers would be the 13th seed and open vs. No. 12 seed South Carolina. If Auburn defeats Missouri and Georgia this week the Tigers could move up to the No. 11 seed with one loss by South Carolina and two by Mississippi State. If the Tigers win one more game this week than South Carolina wins, they would move up to the No. 12 seed.
SEC Scoring Champ? K.T. Harrell goes into the Missouri game averaging 17.7 points per contest, which is No. 1 in the league ahead of Arkansas forward Bobby Portis, who is averaging 17.5 points. The last Auburn player to lead the league in scoring was Wesley Person, who averaged 22.2 points during the 1993-94 season.
Top Rebounder, Too: Cinmeon Bowers continues to lead the league in rebounding with his average of 10.1 per game, which ranks 16th nationally.
Up Next: The Tigers close the regular season with a Senior Day contest at 3 p.m. on Saturday vs. Georgia.