COLUMBIA — For a while Saturday, Laurence Bowers role as Missouris do-everything forward was taken to the extreme.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Nobody else was scoring against Tennessee State. Check that, Alex Oriakhi was pitching in.
But in the first half, that was about it, as the duo combined for all but one of Missouris total.
The rest of the roster came alive after the break as 12th-ranked Mizzou rolled to a 68-38 triumph.
We couldnt get any rhythm going offensively, Missouri coach Frank Haith said. We couldnt make any shots, and they made us look kind of sluggish.
Everybody but Bowers, who scored 15 of his 18 in the first half as Mizzou led 23-20.
But this became a no-doubter because of Missouris defense, and thats the important takeaway here.
As Missouris offense continues to form an identity, the defense will remain dependable, Haith believes. Mizzou coaxed a 24-percent shooting night from Tennessee State and outrebounded it 52-27.
Thats what we are right now, Haith said. Were a team right now where we need to rebound and play defense to win.
Tennessee State went more than 12 minutes, the final 8 of the first half and first 4 of the second half with one field goal. In that span, Mizzou turned an 18-15 deficit into a 27-22 lead and the margin grew from there.
The defense was great, especially in the second half, Oriakhi said. We just responded as a team. We said we had to get stops, and thats exactly what we did. From our defensive rebounding to contesting shots, it was great.
The defining sequence came when Missouri, 8-1, took a 32-22 lead in Negus Webster-Chans drive. Tennessee State looked to score quickly in transition, but Kellen Thortons layup was blocked by Stefan Jankovic. Jordan Cyphers was there to clean up, but his shot was blocked by Bowers.
Tennessee State wound up with another offensive rebound and a rebound for its trouble, but Mizzou made its statement: It owned the defensive rim.
Jankovic gave Missouri a lift in the second half when he scored all 14 of his points. His playing time had been diminishing; twice hed been in double figures minutes in the first five games.
But since the Louisville loss in the Bahamas when he logged 12 minutes, Jankovic played a total of 4 minutes over the next two games and didnt get off the bench in Tuesdays victory over Southeast Missouri State.
He entered Saturdays game for the first time early in the second half to help Mizzou combat Tennessee States zone. At the time, only Bowers could knock down a jumper. Jankovic, with a soft shooting touch for a 6-foot-11 forward, showed no rust by hitting two from deep.
Coach always tells me to be ready, Jankovic said.
After all, as Jankovic said, hes still practicing and apparently performing well enough to maintain Haiths trust.
Coach always tells me that in practice and Ive heard it from other players thats your chance, Jankovic said. Thats my game sometimes. So I find myself in practice trying hardest. Im going against guys like Alex and Laurence in practice, so Im ready.
It took a half, but others got in the action on the offensive end. Webster-Chan hit his first three-pointer in three games. Point guard Phil Pressey scored all five of his points in the first 4½ minutes, Keion Bell got a couple of baskets. The point is, Bowers shoulders could rest. He scored three in the second half as Mizzou outscored Tennessee State 45-18.
Mizzou will add a scorer to the playing rotation for its next game when Jabari Brown becomes eligible. Hes been practicing with Mizzou since transferring from Oregon a year ago, and hell make his debut when the Tigers face South Carolina State on Dec. 17. The 6-5 Brown played in two games for the Ducks but averaged 24 points a game as a high school senior two years ago.
Missouri will welcome any production Brown can provide. But to fit on this team, hell also have to bring the defense and rebounding.