COLUMBIA — In the aftermath of Missouri’s 63-60 win over Florida on Tuesday, Florida coach Billy Donovan nearly fell all over himself complimenting MU junior point guard Phil Pressey.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
"The guy I was really, really impressed with Pressey,” Donovan said. “I thought he really did a terrific job of running his team. He got the ball where it needed to go and made the game easy for everybody else. I thought he really played within himself."
Pressey has been a lightning rod for criticism, thanks to his frantic, up-and-down play that has often vacillated between virtuoso and self-destructive. So when I heard Donovan’s comment, I simply couldn’t help it; I had to dive back into the film room and take another look at Pressey’s performance, just to see if this was really true or just typical lip service.
What I saw, I must admit, was impressive. For all Pressey's faults — he was skewered for his late-game shot-selection/turnovers in road losses to LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas — he was excellent down the stretch against Florida.
Over the last 16 minutes of the game, Pressey had five points, seven assists and (most importantly) zero turnovers. I also charted him taking just one bad shot. His final line (seven points, 10 assists) included five turnovers, which are still entirely too many for a point guard — in SEC play, he’s averaging a league-leading 4.2 per game. But his performance as a whole was a 180-degree turn from his two-point, six-assist, 10-turnover effort in Missouri’s embarrassing 83-52 loss to the Gators on Jan. 19 in Gainesville.
“I thought he was, at our place, crazy,” Donovan said. “I know he turned it over five times (tonight), but a lot of that had to do with we gave him a lot of coverage on a lot of pick-and-roll action.”
Donovan noted that that coverage stopped being effective around the middle of the second half, when Missouri — which trailed 49-36 — outscored the Gators 27-11 the rest of the way. Much of this had to do with Pressey, who efficiently navigated pick-and-rolls and found open teammates in the second half.
“For the last 10 minutes our pick-and-roll coverage on Pressey was not great,” Donovan said. “It was really, really good for 30 minutes…(but) Pressey got loose on pick-and-rolls and made the game easy for everybody else around him.”
So without further ado, here’s a quick run down of all the notable plays involving Pressey during the 27-11 run, a stretch in which he also contributed plenty on defense, as well.
*In this first screen, you see Pressey about to navigate a pick-and-roll with Earnest Ross. Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin fights through it, but Pressey dishes to Jabari Brown, who drills an open but long three-pointer with six seconds left on the shot clock to cut the deficit to 10.
*Just moments later, you see Pressey pull off a Kim English specialty – a charge.
*Above, you see Pressey — who has broken Wilbekin down off the dribble and attacked the rim — somehow find Earnest Ross wide open for a three-pointer. It’s now 49-42, Florida.
*Here’s another example of Pressey breaking the Gators down on the pick-and-roll. Again working with Ross, Pressey drives hard past forward Erik Murphy (33) off the double screen, collapses the defense and finds Laurence Bowers wide open for a slam that makes the score 49-48.
*Pressey then breaks Murphy down off the dribble and finds forward Alex Oriakhi cutting toward the basket — which led to a pair of free throws — then he finds Brown for a three off an elevator screen that cuts the deficit to 57-56.
*Above, Pressey is fouled on the break, but keeps charging toward the rim and finishes through the contact with the left hand for a three-point play. This was a huge play that gave Missouri its first lead, 59-57 with two minutes, 51 seconds left.
*Someone with a better basketball eye than I might disagree, but this shot above appears to be the one egregious error of the last 10 minutes for Pressey — a contested three-pointer with 23.5 seconds left in the game that clanks off the rim. Pressey does take this shot with only six seconds left on the shot clock, but I’m sure Missouri coach Frank Haith would have preferred a shot closer to the rim for a guy currently shooting 22 percent from three in SEC play.
*Finally, the end. Above, Florida manages to get a decent look at a game-tying three despite getting the ball with three seconds left, but Pressey does a nice job of challenging the shot without fouling, and the Tigers hang on for the win.
So so recap, that’s eight positive plays in the last 11 minutes for Pressey, with only one bad decision. And the result was a win over the No. 5 team in the nation, one of the most experienced and disciplined teams in the country. This is the kind of win that builds confidence, the kind that makes people think these Tigers could make some noise come March. But for Missouri to effectively reach its ceiling, it clearly needs Pressey to play the way he did in the second half more regularly.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to email@example.com or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at Twitter.com/TerezPaylor.