Missouri men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin was so impressed by Stephen F. Austin's performance against his team Tuesday night that he did something he said he's never done in his coaching career: He spoke to an opposing team in its locker room after the game.
Shortly after Missouri squeaked out an 82-81 win over the Lumberjacks, who play in the Southland Conference, Martin walked to the visitors' locker room and sought permission from Stephen F. Austin coach Kyle Keller to address his team.
“I know you’re mad and upset guys, and you should be mad because you’re a talented team," Martin told the Lumberjacks. "One thing I always tell our players, guys, is it doesn’t matter (what’s on) the front of the jersey. Y’all got just as much talent as we’ve got, man. I don’t tell you that to make you feel good when you go home. I tell you real talk, man. I’ve never done this in my career. Guys, I'm telling you: Y’all are a hell of a team. You've got a hell of a coach."
Martin then told the Lumberjacks that he was particularly impressed with their defense and planned to follow up with Keller to learn from him.
"I'm serious, man," Martin said. "I want to thank you guys for allowing me to come here, man. You don't owe me nothing. But I just want to tell you, because I know you're upset now, that you've got a hell of a team."
Stephen F. Austin has made the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four seasons, and knocked off a higher-seeded opponent in two of those three appearances. The Lumberjacks beat VCU in overtime in 2014 and upset West Virginia, which was a No. 3 seed, in the first round of the tournament in 2016.
The Lumberjacks were coming off a 83-82 win over LSU and fell to 10-2 with Tuesday's loss. Missouri, meanwhile, is also 10-2 after playing almost the entire season without likely lottery pick Michael Porter Jr., who had back surgery last month.
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.