The Missouri Tigers have proven that they can win at home. They’re a perfect 15-0 the Hearns Center where they came from behind to knock off Florida, 63-60, a week ago. It’s the road that has proved to be a daunting task in their opening season in the SEC. Mizzou won only it’s second road game, but in resounding fashion Thursday night, 90-68, at South Carolina. The Tigers came in 1-4 in their last five on the road as the four losses were by a total of 14 points and one in overtime. Missouri shot 69.6% for the game and at one point had made 30 of 40 shots.
Missouri point guard Phil Pressey controleld Thursday night’s 90-68 win over South carolina and did not even take a shot. Credit: Mizzou Athletics
“We just wanted to stay aggressive,” said Keion Bell, who lead the Tigers with 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, “We felt like playing better on road. We just hadn’t turned them into W’s. The key was to stay aggressive. The previous game we played at home, you want to do a better job that we did the previous time.”
The Tigers are finally healthy with Bell and Laurence Bowers back in the lineup after mid-season injuries toyed with the Tigers’ chemistry as both are back in the lineup and now contributing. Bell and Bowers were both missing due to injury in Missouri’s 71-65 home victory over South Carolina earlier this year.
Coming into the matchup with the Gamecocks, Bowers had totaled 30 points and 15 boards on 13-for-26 shooting in the last two match ups against Florida and Kentucky. The Tigers went with the hot hands offensively as Bowers scored six, but still made his presence felt with his defense in the paint.
“Bowers gives them an extra dimension,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin, “It’s five guys in constant communication with each other and it starts with Phil Pressey. He was talking to all four guys that were on the court with them. Good teams talk. They never shut up.”
In addition, Pressey continued his ascension as one of the top point guards in the nation. The 5-11 point guard is unparalleled in the open floor as he showed in his 27-point, 10-assist effort in the overtime loss at Kentucky. Thursday night, he played just the opposite. Pressey logged 31 minutes and did not take a shot. However, he dished nine assists and ran the Missouri fast break to perfection as the Tigers scored 21 points off the break and 17 off of 10 South Carolina turnovers.
“It speaks volumes to the type of player he is,” said Jabari Brown, who had 23 in the Tigers’ assault, “I have seen him have complete control over the game without taking one shot. He can dominate a game just with intangibles.”
Pressey proved his multi-faceted qualities in the come-from-behind win over Florida with only seven points, but he dished 10 assists and had three steals. Of course, he played the same style of game as he did tonight, but against an opponent who could be a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“Phil was in the flow with getting everybody involved,” noted Missouri’s Frank Haith, “He was good defensively and you know a guy can affect a game without taking a shot in a positive way because very few guys who can do that.”
Martin has game planned against Pressey for three years before as he comes over from Kansas State and wanted a transition defense that would make him to shoot. It never happened though as Pressey controlled the floor.
“I’ve been watching Phil play since ninth grade,” said Martin, “Our game plan against him has always been to make him shoot the ball. You let him play at his pace and he is going to find the open man almost every time.”
Going forward, Thursday night marked Missouri’s 20th win and with home games upcoming against LSU and Arkansas, the school’s record fifth consecutive NCAA trip is all but assured. With six players averaging double figures and an athletic lineup with a dynamic group of athletes.
- Ken Cross
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