The Missouri Tigers (10-2) edged out the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (11-2) by a score of 82-81 on Tuesday night at the Mizzou Arena. The way SFA competed made the game something of a story in basketball circles. What happened after extended beyond.
The Lumberjacks were in their locker room lamenting the loss of a game they felt they could win when Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin came into their locker room.
It was a tough loss in Columbia, but Mizzou head coach @CuonzoMartin did something he had never done in his coaching career - enter an opponents locker room. @MizzouHoops, you’ve got the epitome of class leading you. Maybe we’ll see you in March. #AxeEm pic.twitter.com/86IOt2m9D9— SFA Basketball (@SFA_MBB) December 20, 2017
Martin explained how he has never gone into any opponent’s locker room at any point in his career, but that he felt compelled to show his respects to the SFA players and their head coach Kyle Keller.
In a conversation with Mid-Major Madness, Keller explained how it came about that Martin ended up in his locker room speaking to his team.
During the postgame when players and coaches were shaking hands, Martin stopped Keller and asked if he could speak with his team.
At the time, Keller was uncertain exactly when Martin was looking to speak with his team so asked he asked him when.
“Now,” Martin responded.
Keller said he knows Martin through coaching circles over the years and remembers competing against him in a four-overtime thriller while Martin was the head coach at Tennessee and Keller was an assistant at Texas A&M in 2013.
“He’s from East St. Louis and he’s a tough dude,” Keller said.
Over the years, Keller says that he has never seen anything like that or been a part of anything similar where a coach addressed an opposing teams players following a game.
“The only thing remotely close that I’ve ever seen like that before was when I was an assistant for coach [Eddie] Sutton when [Kirk] Hinrich and [Nick] Collison were seniors and he ran down the sideline and shook their hand on senior day when Roy Williams pulled them out.”
The speech created a buzz on social media and seemed to resonate with people for different reasons. It has brought a heap of attention on a Lumberjacks team that has made it to the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four years, while the team they lost to, Missouri, hasn’t been to the tournament since 2013.
Keller said that he hasn’t spoken with his players about the speech since because most of them were too broken up from the loss to Missouri to fully understand the moment.
“I respect him for what he had to say and I respect him for who he is as a man and as coach and I appreciate what he did,” Keller said.
The Lumberjacks head into conference play starting Dec. 28 against Southeastern Louisiana and are once again the favorite to regain the Southland Conference title and return to the NCAA Tournament come March.
Here is the audio of Kyle Keller discussing how Cuonzo Martin ended up speaking to the Stephen F. Austin players.