GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After spending approximately two hours being beaten up and down the floor by a team once thought to be its equal, No. 17 Missouri’s humiliation on Saturday — an 83-52 loss to No. 10 Florida before a national TV audience — had finally come to a close.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
So as the Tigers’ players and coaches began their slow walk toward their tunnel — a death march, if you will, not unlike the one they made a week ago after a similarly embarrassing road loss to Mississippi — Gator fans at the Stephen O’Connell Center reveled in the win, waving, pointing and snapping photos.
It was the final sobering, “Welcome to the Southeastern Conference” moment in an afternoon full of them for Missouri, as if the final score — the Tigers’ worst loss in five years, by the way — wasn’t bad enough.
“They beat us in every facet of the game,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith.
And when Haith said every facet of the game, he meant every facet of the game. Guard play. Post play. Rebounding. Defense. Offense. You name it, Florida dominated in it before an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 12,597.
Not bad for a Gator team that improved to 14-2 overall and 4-0 in the SEC but was actually ranked one spot behind Missouri (11th) in the Associated Press poll a few weeks ago.
“If we keep playing like this, the national attention will come,” said Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton, one of six Gators to score at least nine points on Saturday.
The opposite can be said for Missouri, which is now 2-2 in the SEC but has dropped its first two conference road games in blowout fashion. Though the Tigers played both without leading scorer Laurence Bowers, who has been nursing a sprained MCL, Haith was not about to excuse his team’s lackluster play Saturday against the Gators.
“I don’t think our team is real good at handling adversity very well within the possession, within a half, within a game,” said Haith, whose team dropped to 13-4 overall. “I think our emotions … we’ve got to be able to handle it a little bit better when things don’t go our way.”
Missouri got plenty of practice at that on Saturday, because things were pretty much downhill from the opening tip. Florida scored on a fast break only four seconds into the game, and only needed three minutes to build a 11-0 lead.
Missouri, meanwhile, never led and again struggled offensively without Bowers, much like it did in the 64-49 loss to Mississippi last Saturday. Some of this had to do with a lack of movement and an inability to make shots, but much of it had to do with the Gators’ athleticism and commitment to on-ball defense as they repeatedly closed off lanes to the basket.
The Gators hounded star point guard Phil Pressey all game, holding him to two points, six assists and a season-high ten turnovers, and harassed Missouri — which turned the ball over 21 times, overall — into 8-for-24 shooting (33 percent) by halftime, when the Tigers found themselves in a 40-23 hole.
“Earlier in the game I think we underestimated the amount of pressure their full court press could put on us,” said senior guard Keion Bell in a comment that actually drew a glare from Haith, who was seated right next to him during the postgame.
“Although the coaching staff has embedded it in our brains throughout the whole week, we just didn’t take heed to the things they were saying about Florida’s pressure,” added Bell, who finished with 14 points. “We just weren’t ready.”
No, they were not. And while Bell also downplayed how much the Gators had to do with the Tigers’ struggles — “I don’t necessarily believe they forced us to do anything,” he said — things certainly didn’t get much better in the second half for Missouri, as the Gators used the same pressure and inside dominance to push their lead to as many as 34 points.
By the time the game was over, the Gators’ dominance was reflected in the stats. Four Gators finished in double figures, led by senior forward Erik Murphy, who had 15 points, and while sophomore guard Jabari Brown led the Tigers with 16 points, he needed 18 shots to do it.
That’s not all, either. Despite committing 16 turnovers, the Gators destroyed the Tigers inside, outrebounding Missouri 35-25 and outscoring the Tigers 48-14 in the paint. The Gators also scored 34 points off turnovers compared to 12 for Missouri.
“We weren’t tough,” Haith said. “Rebounding numbers are always a great indication of who’s tougher. They outrebounded (us), were plus-10 on the boards, (were) way more aggressive.
“You’re not going to win road games unless you play with great toughness.
Missouri also won’t win many games where Pressey — a co-captain with Bowers and the preseason SEC player of the year — plays like he did Saturday.
Haith said Pressey’s desire to do too much led to his struggles.
“I thought he tried to take the game on in an environment (where) you’ve really got to trust your teammates,” Haith said. “There were some tough plays out there, but this is one where I’m sure Phil will want to just get to the next one.”
So will Missouri, which suffered its worst loss since it fell 100-63 on Feb. 16, 2008, to a Kansas State team that featured future NBA players in Michael Beasley and Bill Walker.
“I’ve seen them play several times this year on film, and I’ve seen them very, very explosive offensively,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said of Missouri. “I’ve seen Pressey unguardable. I’ve seen Brown and (Alex) Oriakhi unstoppable. … So it was one of those games where maybe they didn’t have those things going for themselves.”