After complaining about its lack of toughness in a loss to Tennessee that ended the regular season, Missouri spent the week trying to make amends.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After complaining about its lack of toughness in a loss to Tennessee that ended the regular season, Missouri spent the week trying to make amends. Texas A&M paid the price Thursday night. Alex Oriakhi scored 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the third-seeded Tigers used their suffocating defense to defeat No. 11 seed Texas A&M 62-50 in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Aggies (18-15) shot a season-low 24.1 percent (14 of 58) in the first SEC tournament confrontation between these two former Big 12 rivals. Missouri (23-9) led by as many as 21 points and earned a quarterfinal matchup with No. 4 seed Mississippi (23-8). "I think it's definitely one of the better efforts we've had on defense throughout the year," Oriakhi said. "That's what happens when you communicate and play with energy." That energy had been missing Saturday when Missouri faded down the stretch of a 64-62 loss at Tennessee. Senior forward Laurence Bowers said after the game that Tennessee simply was tougher than Missouri on that particular day. "It wasn't only the Tennessee game we slacked in toughness," Bowers said. "The first time we played Texas A&M (a 70-68 loss on Feb. 7), they were tougher than us. They got every 50-50 ball, they were rebounding and doing all the tough things. We knew that would be the difference in today's game. We made that a point of emphasis." The difference was obvious Thursday as Missouri led from start to finish. For the third time this season, Missouri held an opponent below 25 percent shooting. Missouri also outrebounded Texas A&M 46-31 and outscored the Aggies 28-14 in points in the paint. Oriakhi shot 6 of 7 and got nearly all his points on dunks. Texas A&M had ranked fourth in the SEC in field-goal percentage (.447) during the regular season, but the Aggies had all kinds of trouble scoring Thursday with star guard Elston Turner playing hurt. Turner broke the pinkie finger in his left hand March 6 in Texas A&M's 68-57 loss to LSU and sat out the Aggies' regular-season finale. Turner returned to action Wednesday and scored 22 points in a 71-62 victory over Auburn, but he wasn't nearly as effective against Missouri. The 6-foot-5 senior shot 3 of 17 and scored seven points, only the third time all season he had been held to single digits. "It was more a combination of me just missing good looks, and my hand was kind of bothering me midway through the first half and for the rest of the game," Turner said. Missouri used a team approach in guarding Turner, but senior guard Keion Bell had the primary responsibility for containing him. "I wasn't aware of any injuries that he had, but I know that he's a tremendous scorer, so I was just trying to make sure that every shot that he (took), every look that he got at the basket wasn't typical," Bell said. Bowers, Jabari Brown and Tony Criswell had 10 points each as Missouri benefited from the balanced scoring that has sparked the Tigers' success all season. Missouri is the only major-conference team that has six players with scoring averages in double figures. Fabyon Harris led Texas A&M with 15 points. Texas A&M's shooting woes Thursday started immediately. The Aggies shot 4 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half, but they made just two of their 16 attempts from inside the arc. Turner delivered a fadeaway jumper and a lay-in off the glass in the first 3½ minutes of the game, but Texas A&M wouldn't convert another two-point basket until 17:10 remained in the game. While Harris and Turner teamed up to shoot 6 of 14 in the first half, the rest of the Aggies were a combined 0 for 12. "It was an ugly game, which I thought was to our advantage in some ways, but you've got to give Missouri credit," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "Their length and defense forced us really into not being able to make shots." Although Texas A&M continued misfiring in the second half, the Aggies stayed within striking distance for a while and only trailed 30-23 after Alex Caruso scored with 17:10 left. But that's as close as they would get. Missouri then went on a 15-3 run to put the game away. During that spurt, Texas A&M went over seven minutes without a basket. The Tigers led by as many as 21 points until Texas A&M went on a late run after both teams had emptied their benches. Eighteen of Texas A&M's points came in the final four minutes of the game. "Our guys played really hard," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "We were dialed in, we did a great job on Turner, and I thought we had a great team effort." This apparently is Missouri's favorite time of year. Missouri is seeking its second straight conference tournament title and third in the last five seasons. The Tigers won the Big 12 tournament in 2009 and 2012. "We're not stopping here," Bowers said. "We came into this game expecting to win. Not being cocky or arrogant, but we came here to win the championship. (We've won) one game. Now we're looking forward to Ole Miss."