OXFORD, Miss. — The players dressed in black jogged through the tunnel one by one Saturday night, mostly silent, their eyes fixed to the floor.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
After a loss like this — so thorough, so complete — what else could they do?
Moments earlier, Mississippi had put the finishing touches on a 64-49 win over No. 10 Missouri, a game in which the Tigers never led.
“We really didn’t do things we’ve done all year,” MU coach Frank Haith said. “We didn’t attack. We only went to the line six times, they went 20 times … they were way more aggressive than we were, and it showed on the scoreboard.”
There were reasons for this, of course, so let’s start with the obvious. Ole Miss, 13-2, is a good team, one that was no doubt powered by a rare overflow crowd of 9,173 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
But beyond that, it was clear from the get-go that the Tigers missed senior forward Laurence Bowers, who suffered a sprained right MCL earlier this week and watched his teammates score a season-low 49 points, shoot two for 18 on three-pointers and commit 19 turnovers while struggling to create open shots.
“It’s part of the game, we’re not going to make excuses,” Haith said of Bowers’ injury. “But it is difficult because he’s your leading scorer, your guy that you run the offense through at times.”
Bowers, who leads Missouri with 16.8 points per game, has been the embodiment of offensive efficiency all season, stretching defenses with his lethal jump shot and providing a steady presence in the frontcourt.
Without Bowers on Saturday, junior point guard Phil Pressey tried to pick up the slack, scoring 10 points and dishing out five assists. But Pressey also finished with five turnovers and received minimal help from his teammates. Jabari Brown (13 points) and Keion Bell (11 points) were the only other Tigers to score in double figures.
“Neither team got into an offensive rhythm,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. “We were just fortunate enough to manufacture enough baskets to win.”
Bowers’ presence was particularly missed early. It took the Tigers roughly 61/2 minutes to score. Finally, a short jumper by junior forward Tony Criswell, who had missed the previous three games because of a broken finger, made the score 9-2.
“You go back and look at our year, Laurence has done a great job in the first half of helping us get going,” Haith said. “Our first game not having him, it really stymied us a little bit to start the ballgame.”
The Rebels never were threatened the rest of the half, hounding the Tigers into 10-for-30 shooting (33.3 percent) and 10 turnovers.
“We were timid,” Haith said. “We were looking for someone to bail us out as opposed to making plays.”
The second half was more of the same. Ole Miss repeatedly fed the ball to senior forward Murphy Holloway (22 points), sophomore guard Jarvis Summers (12 points) and junior guard Marshall Henderson (11 points). The Rebels led by as much as 20 even though they shot just 39.3 percent.
Missouri dropped to 12-3 entering its home game Wednesday against Georgia. The confines will be much friendlier than they were Saturday, but the Tigers will again be without Bowers, whose status will be re-evaluated after that game.
While the date of Bowers’ return remains up in the air, one thing is for sure: The Tigers better find a way to pick up the slack without him, and in a hurry.
In his absence Saturday, MU’s big men — Criswell, Earnest Ross, Alex Oriakhi, Stefan Jankovic and Ryan Rosburg — combined for 15 points, two fewer than Bowers’ average.
“He’s our leading scorer, that’s a big chunk (of offense we’re missing),” Pressey said. “But the way we played, with or without him…it’s going to be tough to win. I feel like that was our worst two halves of basketball all year.
“We put that on ourselves to get better.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org