Through highs and lows, Martin keeps Tigers even keel
On February 6, 2021, Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri Tigers beat No. 10 Alabama 68-65. On January 8, 2022—336 days later—Martin’s Tigers beat No. 15 Alabama 92-86.
In between those two defining wins over a ranked Crimson Tide team, the Tigers went 9-14.
Through it all, Cuonzo Martin rarely wavered.
“Coach is coach,” Kobe Brown said after a career-high 30-point performance to lead the Tigers over his home state team on Saturday afternoon. “He’s all about business.”
Martin’s persona rarely changes. He’s intense during the game, stalking the Missouri sideline and almost never sitting down. But after a game, it would be difficult to tell from his volume, his inflection, his body language—or even what he’s actually saying—whether Missouri has won or lost.
A lot of fans probably view that as a negative. Especially when his team is struggling as much as it has this season, fans want answers. Heck, those of us in the media would like some answers to. That’s just not Martin. Saturday was “just another win to me” and the losses—whether they’re blowouts against Kansas and Illinois or the ones that shouldn’t happen against Liberty and UMKC—are opportunities for growth.
“Often times you can consume yourself with the periphery if you’re struggling and losing games,” Martin said.
That’s not Martin. This is a man who has frequently said if Missouri fires him, he'll walk away and you'll never hear from him again. He spends no time at all worrying about his job security, even as the opinions about it have come frequently--and not favorably--this season.
“People always say trust the process, but I always say trust the people,” Martin said. “I’m not going to tell you everything you want to hear, but trust the fact that I’m going to do everything in my power so you can be successful. That’s trusting the people more than the process.”
That’s not to say Martin doesn’t change anything. The Tigers hadn’t played a game in ten days. After losing 83-56 at Kentucky on December 29th, COVID ravaged the roster and Missouri had to postpone Wednesday’s game against Mississippi State (Anton Brookshire and Amari Davis were still out on Saturday). Martin and his staff ran their team through rigorous practice sessions, even though they often weren’t able to run regular practices due to quarantine protocols.
“Lot of competing,” Boogie Coleman said. “Lot of consequences if you lose.
“You just tried to practice perfect so you don’t have to run.”
“I can only speak to the individual workouts,” Javon Pickett, who was in quarantine and thus not able to practice with his teammates, said. “That was a little rough.”
“That was a lot rough,” Brown corrected.
Martin himself wasn’t present for the blowout at Kentucky isolating himself after a positive COVID test the day after Christmas. He returned with a team that looked nothing like the one we had seen for the season’s first 13 games.
“He brings the intensity to the game,” Coleman said. “He’s so ready, fired up, he be wanting to play so bad you just don’t want to disappoint him.”
Martin said the win over Alabama reminded him of “my old days” when Gene Keady challenged Martin and his teammates and they responded with energy and toughness. The Tigers matched the Crimson Tide with 9-of-24 shooting from three-point range, they dominated the glass and they had just ten turnovers. And yet, after the game, Martin wasn’t any more excitable than he ever is.
“I’m very happy for them,” Martin said of his players. “Often times you can consume yourself with the periphery if you’re struggling and losing games.
“It makes you better if you don’t give up, don’t quit.”
Don’t mistake this for some season-defining, tide-changing (no pun intended) game. Missouri is still 7-7, 1-1 in the SEC. It doesn’t erase any of those losses we talked about. There will be more to come. But Saturday was a high moment to bring Missouri back to even for the season…exactly where their coach is pretty much every day.
“We’ve had our share of lows this season,” Martin said. “We got plenty of room to grow as a team, but I’m happy with our guys today.”
Or, more as Coleman put it more succinctly: “Ain’t nothing changed.”
For Martin and Mizzou, it’s just back to work. Arkansas is up next on Wednesday night.