COLUMBIA — Alex Oriakhi has a reputation for being a rebounder and shot-blocker, but the senior center also knows he needs to provide some inside scoring if the Tigers are to reach their goals this season.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
So while Nicholls State, Missouri's opponent on Friday night, was nothing to write home about, it's hard not to for Oriakhi to be encouraged by his performance in the Tigers' 74-54 win before a crowd of 9,519 at Mizzou Arena.
"The coaching staff is doing a great job of (helping me) get my confidence," said Oriakhi, who finished with a team-high 17 points. "The most important thing is he's letting me play through my mistakes, which is something I wasn't able to do last year. That definitely messes with your mind."
Oriakhi, who transferred to Missouri from Connecticut in the spring, missed several shots early on Friday, eventually finishing four for nine from the field. But the Tigers continued to feed him the ball, and Oriakhi " aided largely by his ability to draw fouls and make free throws " finished only one point off his career high.
"When he gets bumped and hit, he's got to gather himself and go up through the defense," said Missouri coach Frank Haith.
Oriakhi finished nine of 10 from the free throw line, both of which are career highs, showing an efficiency that often escaped him last season at Connecticut, when he shot 57 percent from the charity stripe.
However, the muscular 6-foot-9 senior's contributions didn't end there. Oriakhi also pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds " his third straight double-digit rebounding game " to help MU dominate a smaller opponent on the boards by a 41-25 margin. His seven offensive rebounds were also key, particularly in the first half, when the Tigers took a 32-25 lead into the break largely because of an 8-1 offensive rebounding margin.
Haith said he anticipated a close game earlier, largely due to Nicholls State's methodical, five-man motion offense.
"I mean this as a compliment, but when you're playing a team like this, it's like going to the dentist and getting a root canal," Haith said.
In the second half, however, Missouri's size and athleticism eventually won out. The Tigers opened the second half with a 25-11 run over the first nine minutes, thanks in large part to senior guard Keion Bell, who scored 10 of his 13 points after halftime to notch the first double-figure scoring output of his career.
In fact, Bell led an offense that attacked the rim so hard in the second half that the Tigers were already in the bonus at the 15 minute, 35 second mark. The Tigers led 46-30 at that point, and with Nicholls State in danger of sending Missouri to the line with every foul after that, the game was never close after that.
Missouri, 3-0, also got big nights from junior guard Earnest Ross, who finished with 16 points, and senior forward Laurence Bowers, who finished with 12 points.
Nicholls State, 0-2, was led offensively by 6-foot-5, 240 pound guard Fred Hunter, who used his unique frame and game to finish with a game-high 22 points on seven of 11 shooting.
"He was a tough matchup," Haith said.
However, the same can be said for Oriakhi, whose continued development as an inside force will be paramount if the Tigers hope to be as efficient offensively as they were last year, when Ricardo Ratliffe set the tone by scoring at will in the paint.
"It's very important because it will only open up our perimeter game," Haith said of Oriakhi's growth. "We'll continue to probe that and get better with that."