COLUMBIA — Playing his first regular season game since the end of the 2011 season, Laurence Bowers acted like he missed it.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Bowers took over Missouris 83-69 victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville early in the second half, scoring 18 of his 20 points after the break.
At one point, Bowers scored 10 straight, in a variety of ways. Layup, free throws, jumper, tip-in, and a slam to finish a Phil Pressey pass from near midcourt.
It felt good, Bowers said. Its the first time Ive dunked in a game in a long while.
Its the first time Bowers has done anything in a regular-season game in a while, since the end of the 2011 season. Bowers tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in an early-season workout as the Tigers were preparing for Coach Frank Haiths first year last season.
Bowers figured to be a major contributor, coming off successive seasons of double-digit scoring. Instead, he watched the Tigers spend much of the season in the top 10 and collect 30 victories while he was in street clothes on the bench.
But he wasnt inactive. The ACL meant no contact, so Bowers became a gym rat, shooting, shooting and shooting. He already possessed a nice touch, entering this season with career floor accuracy of 54.2 percent.
I was shooting a ton when I was hurt, Bowers said. Its paying off. Ive just got to continue to be consistent.
Bowers showed great range Saturday. During his second half flurry, he smoothly stroked a pair of jumpers from just inside the arc. Haith said Bowers has the green light in such situations.
Hes worked hard at that, and hes extended his range, Haith said. He caught the ball in rhythm and didnt hesitate shooting it. Hes got good rotation on it.
At 6-8, with a nice enough touch to pull a big away from the basket, Bowers is a matchup problem. The Tigers have a few of those among their many new faces, and perhaps the first to make a big impression is freshman guard Negus Webster-Chan.
With Missouris offense struggling in the first half, Webster-Chan came off the bench and buried the teams first three-pointer to give the Tigers the lead at 27-26.
SIUE had led for much of the first half, until Webster-Chan started warming up.
He hit two more from deep, the bookends of a 10-0 run to finish the half that gave Mizzou a 40-34 lead at the break.
Webster-Chan is a lean 6-7 who handles the ball well enough to play point, and he averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists at Huntington Prep in West Virginia last year.
When he loaded up for his first open look on the wing, Webster-Chan didnt fret that the Tigers had little else going for them offensively to that point. He felt comfortable and let it fly.
I didnt even look at the score, Webster-Chan said. I was just focusing on defense and executing our offense.
Haith knows better than to be effusive in praise with a player who had just completed his first regular season college game. But what Haith has seen to date excites him.
Guys, Im so excited about Negus, Haith said. I cant get too excited because he is a freshman, but he is beyond his years as a player. He does little things you guys dont see, but I see as a coach in terms of execution. Hes always in the right place. He doesnt over dribble. He only does what he can do. He guards. He has great length.
Webster-Chan finished with 11 points and four assists, and there were several nice stat lines. Pressey was one assist short of a double-double and had 19 points.
Alex Oriakhi, the Connecticut transfer, was a bull in the middle with 15 rebounds, and Tony Criswell added 10 more.
There were concerns. Mizzous defense had trouble rotating and getting to SIUE shooters in the first half. The Cougars knocked in seven triples to keep up with Missouri for most of the first half.
But on an opening weekend when teams like Purdue and Florida State lost in upsets, Haith was happy to get what he got.
I dont know if we had the energy we needed at the beginning of the game, Haith said. Youve got to be ready.
The Tigers were, especially Bowers, after a long wait.