Missouri fires hoops coach Cuonzo Martin after 5 seasons

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri fired basketball coach Cuonzo Martin on Friday night, one day after the Tigers finished a 12-21 season with a 76-68 loss to LSU in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Tigers athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said in a statement that the search for a new coach would begin immediately, and that longtime coach and administrator Eddie Fogler would assist in the process.

It will be the first major coaching hire at Missouri for Reed-Francois, who was hired by the school in August.

“Coach Martin represented the university with an extremely high level of class and dignity,” Reed-Francois said. “We are grateful for his contributions to our program, on and off the floor. He is not only a coach, but is a teacher, and he has impacted the lives of every student-athlete who came through the program over the last five years.”

Martin was hired five years ago following the failed three-year tenure of Kim Anderson, promising to bring an exciting style of play along with high-level recruits. But most of those recruits, such as Michael Porter Jr., struggled with injuries and the pieces never seemed to come together in Columbia, where Martin had a record of 78-77.

“Last game coaching? I’m good to go,” he said Thursday night. “I’m at peace with whatever. I don’t get consumed with that. I don’t worry about that. If that’s the best thing for both parties, then that’s the best thing for both parties. But I won’t waste any time with that. Whatever happens, happens.

“I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” Martin added, “but I have a tremendous peace of mind, and I’m going back to the hotel to relax with my family and then go from there.”

Martin certainly had support from many of his rival coaches, including South Carolina’s Frank Martin.

“Last time I checked they went to the NCAA Tournament last year, if I’m not mistaken,” he said Thursday. “I don’t know what this business is coming to when men like him get questioned on what they can and can’t do, and get judged this year in this league coming off the year he had last year. We got major issues in this business if somebody that had that team top 20 in the country pretty much all season last year and went to the NCAA tournament (gets fired).

“When is the last time you read about Cuonzo Martin’s teams in any kind of negative connote? You’re not,” Martin continued. “When is the last time you read a player for Cuonzo Martin in any kind of negative connote? You’re not. He just came off an NCAA Tournament, and people start talking like that? That’s sad. This business isn’t right if that’s the way we go.”

After stints at Missouri State, Tennessee and California, Martin’s best season with Missouri was his first, the 2017-18 season, when Porter led the Tigers to a 20-12 record and the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers went 15-16 the following season when they were ineligible for postseason play, and 15-16 during the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season.

They finally returned to the NCAA Tournament last season, squeaking into the 68-team field with a 16-9 record, but were edged by former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in their first-round matchup.

Missouri has struggled to find success since the retirement of beloved coach Norm Stewart.

Quin Snyder had a few good years – including an Elite Eight appearance – that were ultimately tainted by controversy, and he went 12-16 during his final season in Columbia. Mike Anderson took the Tigers to the Elite Eight but left Missouri in a lurch after five seasons when he departed for Arkansas. And Frank Haith also courted controversy during his up-and-down tenure at Missouri.

If nothing else, Martin led the program with grace and class through widespread social unrest on campus, including protests during the Black Lives Matter movement that came to be defined by the football and basketball programs.

Martin just didn’t win enough games in a business where that is usually the bottom line.

“I believe that Mizzou is one of the best men’s basketball coaching jobs in the country,” Reed-Francois said in her statement. “We have and will continue to invest in our men’s basketball program, and I look forward to introducing the new leader of our program to our community in the near future. We will work quickly and expeditiously to find the candidate who is the best fit to continue building our championship culture.”

Chandler paces No. 17 Tennessee in 80-61 rout of Missouri

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Kennedy Chandler scored 23 points to lead No. 17 Tennessee to an 80-61 victory over Missouri on Tuesday night.

Chandler, a freshman guard averaging 13.2 points, eclipsed that average with 14 points in the first half for the Volunteers (20-7, 11-4 Southeastern Conference). The 6-foot, 172-pound Chandler was far too quick for the Tigers’ big, bulky backcourt players. He made 9 of 12 shots and added eight rebounds and six assists without a turnover.

“He has learned so much about how to move without the ball,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “He made some great cuts tonight. He’s a lethal player when he does that.”

Chandler said after he attempted an early 3-pointer, he heard Barnes’ voice in his head telling him not to settle for perimeter shots.

“Attacking is the best part of my game – attacking and getting my teammates open,” Chandler said.

Santiago Vescovi made 4 of 6 3-pointers and scored 14 points for Tennessee, which made 9 of 18 3-pointers as a team.

Tennessee’s talent barely dipped when Barnes went to his bench as the reserves had their way with Missouri. In the first half, the Volunteers outscored the Tigers 15-3 in bench points on the way to a 36-27 lead. The Tigers went more than seven minutes without a basket early in the second half as Tennessee opened a 21-point lead to put the game out of reach.

Javon Pickett led Missouri (10-18, 4-11) with 16 points, and Kobe Brown had 12 points and nine rebounds. Pickett said he hasn’t seen any lack of effort from his teammates as they’ve lost four straight games.

“We have grit,” Pickett said. “We’ve shown it plenty of times. We’ve just got to continue to bring it every game.”

VJ’S DAY

Tennessee senior guard Victor Bailey Jr. had failed to score in eight SEC games – a puzzling development for a player who averaged 10.9 points last season. He had a breakout game against Missouri. Bailey scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting against the school where his father was a star wide receiver in the early 1990s.

“Anybody close to our program will tell you how much respect they have for him and how hard he’s continued to work,” Barnes said. “That’s a great example for everybody that you just don’t let go of that rope. Not only hold on, but keep working and keep climbing.”

Bailey said he hadn’t let his recent struggles get him down.

“I’ve done a better job this year of keeping a level head,” Bailey said. “It’s definitely good to see some shots go in, but my focus is to do whatever can help this team win.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers rank fourth in the country in steal percentage – coming up with steals on 13.9% of their opponents’ possessions – which was bad news for a turnover-prone Missouri team without a true point guard. Tennessee came up with five steals in the first half and scored nine points off turnovers to take control of the game.

Missouri: A season that has turned into a slog for coach Cuonzo Martin and the Tigers continued with a home loss in front of another sparse crowd at Mizzou Arena. After losing eight players from a team that made the NCAA Tournament in 2021, Martin’s attempt to reload with four transfers and four freshmen has fallen flat. Missouri is headed to its third losing season in Martin’s five years at the school.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: Returns home for a Saturday game against No. 3 Auburn.

Missouri: Travels to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to face LSU on Saturday.

Brown scores 30, lifts Missouri over No. 15 Alabama 92-86

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COLUMBIA, Mo. – Kobe Brown scored a career-high 30 points and added 13 rebounds as Missouri beat No. 15 Alabama 92-86 Saturday for its first win in three weeks.

The Tigers (7-7, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) had been 0-2 with another game postponed because of COVID-19 issues since their last victory on Dec. 18. They hadn’t played since Dec. 29.

“To me, it’s just another win,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I’m happy for our players because they put a lot of work in and that can be taxing. I’m in the fight with them so I’m happy for them.”

Jarron Coleman scored 18 points and Dajuan Gordon and Javon Pickett each had 15 for the Tigers. Brown, a junior, had his seventh career double-double.

The Crimson Tide (11-4, 2-2) got within four points with 12 seconds left, but the Tigers held off Alabama despite only making one basket in the final five minutes.

“You have to give Missouri a lot of credit,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “It might have been our worst defensive performance of the season. They played harder than us today. The effort was different between the two teams today it cost us the game. We’ve got to look ourselves in the eyes and play better than we did tonight.”

Jahvon Quinerly led Alabama with 19 points, Jaden Shackelford added 17, JD Davison scored 13 and Keon Ellis had 12.

The Tigers had a huge second half scoring 52 points and shooting 50% from the field.

“Our guys did a tremendous job against a very talented team,” Martin said. “You have to dig deep to believe you are good enough and we did that tonight.”

The Tigers outrebounded the Crimson Tide 43-31, but Alabama outscored Missouri 46-36 in the paint.

“We got drilled on the glass and our zone didn’t really work,” Oats said.

The loss for Alabama is their fourth to unranked teams this season, but they also have several impressive wins including a win over No. 4 Gonzaga.

“All four losses we were favored, and Missouri plays hard but we should be better than them,” Oats said. “We’ve got to get better leadership and that starts with me.”

Missouri led by as many as 18 and beat Alabama at home for the third consecutive season. It was their first win against a ranked opponent since topping the Crimson Tide.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: They played well in the first half, but struggled to score to start the second half.

Missouri: For not playing in nearly two weeks, the Tigers appeared to have no rust at all.

UP NEXT

Alabama: Hosts Auburn on Tuesday night.

Missouri: goes to Arkansas on Wednesday.

Oklahoma slips past former Big 12 rival Missouri in NCAAs

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INDIANAPOLIS — Trying to defend a three-point lead with under 6 seconds left, Oklahoma’s Elijah Harkless played it perfectly.

Harkless fouled Missouri’s Drew Buggs as he dribbled, putting him at the line with 2.1 seconds remaining – which wasn’t enough – and the Sooners slipped by the ninth-seeded Tigers to win 72-68 on Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said his strategy is always to foul up three in the final 6 seconds of a game. But that decisive Missouri possession started with 17 seconds left and there was no timeout for the Sooners’ coaches to tell their players what to do.

“It’s one thing to kind of plan on doing it, it’s another thing to make the play that E.J. did, and actually get the foul,” Kruger said. “Elijah made a very good, heads-up play right there.”

Eighth-seeded Oklahoma (16-10) is on to the second round for fourth time in the last six tournaments and will face unbeaten No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Monday in the West Region.

The Sooners pulled out to an eight-point lead with 1:08 left behind Austin Reaves (23 points) and Brady Manek (19 points), but Dru Smith made two 3-pointers in the final minute to keep the pressure on and pull Missouri within 70-67 with 46.7 seconds to go.

Smith led the Tigers (16-10) with 20 points. Jeremiah Tilmon had 16 points and 14 rebounds in his final college game, pulling his jersey over his head as he left the court.

“Everybody out there was going hard and nobody was expecting to lose so it just got really emotional out there walking off the court,” Tilmon said.

Reaves missed a jumper late that gave Missouri a possession to tie. Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin said the Sooners made it tough to get the ball back to Smith and then things broke down.

They fumbled the ball around to waste some precious seconds, and then Harkless smartly fouled Buggs, reaching at his dribbling hand, to prevent the 3-point attempt the Tigers needed.

Buggs made the first and missed the second on purpose. Jalen Hill grabbed the rebound for the Sooners, was fouled and made two more free throws to wrap it up a quintessential 8-9 game between the former Big 12 rivals. The lead changed nine times and never reached double digits for either team.

“You’ve got to be composed,” Reaves said. “Late in the year we dropped some of those (close) games. I feel like it was similar tonight, but we came out on the better end of the stick this time.”

Martin decided to go with Buggs in the backcourt down the stretch over Xavier Pinson, who came in tied for the team lead in scoring.

“I think really we got into a flow with Buggs,” Martin said. “We got a real flow, we got back in the game with Buggs, and it just went from there and I thought Buggs did a great job on both sides of the basketball.”

Both teams limped into the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma ended the season losing five of six – all by seven points or fewer – in the tough Big 12.

Missouri went 3-6 in its final nine in the Southeastern Conference.

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: Martin has taken Missouri to the tournament twice since taking over in 2017, but the proud program still has not won an NCAA game since 2010.

Oklahoma: The Sooners were without guard De’Vion Harmon, who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Indianapolis. The sophomore was the team’s second-leading scorer (12.3 points per game) and is expected to miss round two as well.

UP NEXT

It will be the fourth meeting between the Oklahoma and Gonzaga. The Zags have won two of three.

Michigan St, Izzo in new spot as First Four participants

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INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo are in an unfamiliar position.

Last time there was an NCAA Tournament, the Spartans reached the Final Four in 2019 — the most recent of eight trips under Izzo.

This time, Michigan State needed a late surge just to get into the Big Dance, and they’ll have to win an extra game, too. The Spartans (15-12) will face UCLA (17-9) on Thursday in a First Four matchup of No. 11 seeds in the East Region.

Izzo is just thankful to be playing, all things considered.

“You know and I know that three weeks ago nobody gave us a chance, including probably most of you and probably even me,” Izzo said. “We fought our way through, and that took some courage and guts, and I’m proud of them for that.”

It’s fitting that the Spartans will have just a little bit tougher road ahead than most of the qualifiers. Even in the most difficult of years, Michigan State faced extra challenges.

Izzo contracted COVID-19 early in the season, yet the Spartans opened with six straight wins. They started Big Ten play with three straight losses on their way to dropping nine of 13 overall, but they eventually bounced back late in the season with victories over Ohio State, Michigan and Illinois — which all finished in the top seven of the final AP poll.

Now, the Spartans will need to win Thursday’s matchup in West Lafayette to reach the final 64 and play No. 6 seed BYU on Saturday. That winner will face No. 3 seed Texas or No. 14 seed Abilene Christian on Monday.

“I’m not worried about facing anybody in this tournament,” Izzo said. “I don’t feel comfortable with UCLA and BYU or Texas, but I don’t feel afraid of UCLA, BYU or Texas or anybody else because we truly, truly have played the best teams in the country on a night-in and night-out basis, and especially in the last two to three weeks.”

With all the complications this season, Izzo is simplifying the situation.

“I still want to win the weekend,” he said. “The weekend just became a little longer. So, in this year of the pandemic, in this year of 2020-21, I might as well experience some more new things.”

Aaron Henry, a junior forward from Indianapolis, leads the Spartans with 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Joey Hauser, another junior forward averages 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds. Senior guard Joshua Langford averages 9.6 points per contest.

Michigan State has had 11 players start at least five games. UCLA coach Mick Cronin is impressed with how Izzo has made it work.

“He’s got a different kind of team this year because he’s played many, many different lineups — they can change at the drop of a hat and go with different guys, so there’s a lot of personnel for our guys to digest because they play so many guys,” he said. “Some of that is him searching, and some of it’s strategy to match up with his opponent.”

Cronin said as long as Izzo is around, the Spartans are a threat.

“It means we’ve got to beat a Hall of Fame coach,” Cronin said. “One thing about coach Izzo — the reason he has survived so long and he’s had such a great career is that they’re never easily defeated. He refuses to give in. That’s why he was able to rally his team.”

UCLA counters with a trio of sophomore guards. Johnny Juzang has averaged 14 points per game in his first season since transferring from Kentucky. Jaime Jaquez Jr. averages 11.7 points and 6.0 rebounds and Tyger Campbell averages 10.5 points and 5.6 assists.

Izzo likes how they play for Cronin.

“He’s got kids that have bought in, and I have a lot of respect for Mick and the way he has done it and doing it in an environment that’s not as easy to do it in,” Izzo said. “He brings a smash mouth kind of team and it will be a different team than maybe some we’ve played out West.”

WICHITA STATE vs DRAKE

Drake and Wichita State will play the most important of their 152 games against each other on Thursday and the winner advances to face No. 6 seed USC on Saturday.

Drake is a longtime member of the Missouri Valley Conference. Wichita State competed in the MVC for decades before leaving for the American Athletic Conference in 2017. The schools played a home-and-home series in all but two seasons during a 72-year stretch that began in 1945-46.

Drake coach Darian DeVries played college ball at MVC member Northern Iowa and was a longtime assistant at Creighton – also a former MVC program.

“I’m very familiar with them over the years as a player and a coach,” DeVries said. “It’s certainly an exciting match-up. I watched them the other day in their game against Cincinnati. They won their league, they’re a talented team and have always had good teams.”

Drake (25-4) opened the season with 18 consecutive wins and ShanQuan Hemphill leads the way with 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Isaac Brown took over as Wichita State’s interim coach early in the season. The Shockers (16-5) started the season with a 1-2 record but found their way. They won eight straight late in the season, including a victory over Houston on Feb. 18. Tyson Etienne, the co-American Athletic Conference player of the year, leads the way with 17 points per game. Alterique Gilbert adds 10.3.

NORFOLK STATE vs APPALACHIAN STATE

Norfolk State (16-7) is back for the first time since 2012, when the Spartans upset No. 2 seed Missouri before losing to Florida. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion has won six straight and hasn’t lost since Feb. 8. Devante Carter leads the way with 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.

Appalachian State (17-11) is in the tournament for the first time since 2000 and seeks its first win. The Mountaineers won one game the entire month of February before running off four victories in four days to claim the automatic bid.

Adrian Delph leads the way with 13.2 points per game. Michael Almonacy was the Sun Belt tournament MVP after scoring 32 points in the championship game win over Georgia State. Justin Forrest averages 10 points per contest and has been strong the past four games.

The winner will play No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga.

MOUNT ST. MARY’S vs TEXAS SOUTHERN

Mount St. Mary’s (12-10) won the automatic berth out of the Northeast Conference. Damien Chong Qui, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound guard, leads the way with 15.3 points and 5.5 assists per game.

The Mountaineers were below .500 as recently as the last week of February. They upset Bryant in the conference title game, giving the Bulldogs their only home loss of the season.

Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Texas Southern (16-8) seeks its second-ever NCAA Tournament win. Michael Weathers leads the team with 16.5 points per game. John Walker III averages 11.9 and Joirdon Karl Nicholas averages 11.3.

The winner will play No. 1 seed Michigan on Saturday.

Notae helps No. 8 Arkansas beat Missouri 70-64 in SEC

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The eighth-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks needed a boost, and JD Notae fought through an illness to give them just that off the bench.

Notae scored a season-high 27 points, and Arkansas overcame a 10-point deficit to beat Missouri 70-64 on Friday night to advance to the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.

“He played phenomenal,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “He threw up at one point, and then he did it again at halftime. I didn’t know if he was going to come out and play the second half.”

Musselman thinks Notae was dealing with a bad reaction to some food because the Arkansas coach also didn’t feel well all Friday. But the guard who sat out last season following a transfer from Jacksonville scored 16 in the first half and tied for the fourth-best scoring game for Arkansas at this tournament.

“We didn’t know what it was at halftime, not knowing if he’d come back,” Arkansas guard Davonte Davis said. “So him being a fighter and just helping us out coming off the bench and giving us 27 points and contributing down the stretch helped us out a lot.”

The Razorbacks (22-5) won a school-record 12th straight SEC game, topping the 11-game winning streak since the end of the 1993-94 season. The second-seeded Razorbacks will play LSU – a 76-73 winner over Ole Miss in the late game – in the semifinals Saturday, their fourth such berth since 2015.

Justin Smith scored 16 points before fouling out for Arkansas, and Davis added 11. Moses Moody, the SEC Newcomer of the Year who had been averaging 17.5 points a game, matched his season-low with five points.

Missouri (16-9) heads home having failed to reach the semifinals at this tournament since joining the SEC for the 2012-13 season with this the Tigers’ fourth loss in the quarterfinals.

Xavier Pinson led Missouri with 14 points. Dru Smith added 11.

The Tigers led for much of the first half and were up 23-13 on a layup by Dru Smith with 9:18 left.

Notae started the rally with a big dunk and made five straight shots, including back-to-back 3s to cap a 16-0 spurt. His first 3 gave Arkansas its first lead of the game with 5:13 remaining, and his second padded that lead to 29-23. The junior guard made six of his first seven shots in the half.

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said Notae got himself going with two deep 3s early.

“He’s a confident scorer,” Martin said. “I don’t think he scored it that well lately, but you knew it was coming at some point because he’s an aggressive scorer and if his shot is falling, they went through and you can see he made plays.”

Pickett hit a 3-pointer that put Missouri up 33-32 at halftime. The Tigers last led 49-47 on a dunk by Kobe Brown with 9:32 left.

Arkansas took control with an 13-1 run, grabbing its biggest lead at 60-50 with 5:04 left on a layup by Notae.

Missouri had one last gasp. Parker Braun hit a 3, then Kobe Brown added a pair of free throws to pull the Tigers within 63-60 with 1:49 to go. But Notae beat the shot clock throwing up a jumper off the backboard with 1:19 remaining, and Davis split his free throws with 58 seconds left to pad the lead.

Notae said the Razorbacks didn’t want to go home after their first game.

“That’s why we’re here,” Notae said. “We want to win every game.”

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: The Tigers matched Arkansas’ strong shooting early in the first half until foul trouble caught up with them. Jeremiah Tilmon fouled out with 5:26 to go having scored only nine points and no rebounds, and Mitchell Smith also fouled out.

“That’s a key loss because it’s two guys you count on,” Martin said.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks started their SEC winning streak rallying from a 19-point deficit against Auburn. They also trailed by 14 to Texas A&M in the regular season finale. This time, they only trailed by only 10, but that could be costly the deeper they advance this month.

UP NEXT

Arkansas must win its 13th straight SEC game to reach the final for the first time since 2017.

Missouri heads home to learn its NCAA Tournament destination.