COLUMBIA — So this is what revenge looks like. It’s Mike Anderson, finally strolling onto Norm Stewart Court on Tuesday, being booed vociferously for the perceived “sins” of his past.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
It’s Missouri coach Frank Haith removing his jacket in anger in the first half — despite his team cruising toward a double-digit lead at the time — and later engaging (somewhat uncharacteristically) in a contentious — but brief — on-court shouting match with Anderson.
And finally, it’s the Razorbacks — the same team that handed the Tigers a disappointing two-point loss one month ago — getting crushed in nearly every statistical category as Missouri built a 26-point halftime lead on the way to a convincing 93-63 victory in front of a raucous sellout crowd 15,061 at Mizzou Arena.
“It’s Senior Night,” Anderson said. “You expect emotions to be sky-high.”
By the time it was over, these moments and plenty others like them provided the highlights of a game in which the crowd, rightly or wrongly, made it clear from the get-go that it wanted Anderson to get his reckoning, despite the fact he coached five largely successful seasons in Columbia and helped Missouri move on from the disastrous Quin Snyder era.
It was, apparently, the way Anderson had left in March 2011 — with no news conference and no explanation — that clearly continued to rankle those in attendance, and they proceeded to provide a loud home-court advantage, though Missouri — which improved to 22-8, 11-6 in the Southeastern Conference — needed a little time to heat up.
Despite a moving Senior Night ceremony for their three seniors — Laurence Bowers, Keion Bell and Alex Oriakhi — the Tigers got off to a shaky start, committing five turnovers over the first four minutes as Arkansas, 18-12, 9-8 in the SEC, took a 7-5 lead.
But it would not last, as the Tigers calmed down enough to let their size, shooting and defense take over. Missouri proceeded to outscore Arkansas 43-15 the rest of the half, thanks to 13-of-23 shooting from the field (56.5 percent) and a 26-9 rebounding advantage.
Arkansas, meanwhile, struggled mightily from the field, shooting 10-of-32 (31.3 percent), including a dreadful 1-for-15 on three-pointers in the half.
“We were on point defensively, shrinking gaps, keeping them out of the paint, rebounding the ball,” Haith said. “Other than our live-ball turnovers, from a defensive standpoint we were really good.”
The Razorbacks’ shooting helped Missouri neutralize a 10-3 turnover disadvantage at halftime, as the Tigers took a 48-22 lead into the break. Arkansas could only watch in the second half as the Tigers, who led by as many as 34 points, used the same ingredients to pour it on the rest of the way, despite sophomore guard B.J. Young’s 27 points.
Make no mistake about it, on this night, much of Missouri’s energy came from Haith, whose intensity spoke volumes. Whether it was Senior Night, or the 73-71 loss the Razorbacks handed his team on Feb. 16, the fact the Tigers needed a win to have a shot at a double bye at next week’s SEC tournament or recent comments Anderson made about the role he played in Missouri’s success last year, Missouri’s coach was clearly amped.
“I looked at him on the sideline and I didn’t really recognize him,” Oriakhi said with a laugh. “That was the most emotional I’ve ever seen him.”
Haith would later deny that, though his actions indicated that Oriakhi was onto something.
At one point in the first half, Anderson — apparently displeased with something Haith had done — yelled something at Haith at a timeout. Haith was not too happy about whatever was said, because he briefly had to be restrained.
And later in the half, with Missouri leading by more than 20 points, Haith waved his arms to the crowd and his team, urging them to keep the pressure on. Haith would later say it was a miscommunication — he was talkng to his team, and Anderson thought he was saying something else — and that he tried to explained that to Anderson after the game. Anderson also called it a miscommunication and added he wasn’t making “too much about it.”
But afterward, much of Anderson’s news conference centered around the way he had left Missouri, not his relationship with Haith. When asked if he had any regrets, Anderson said he did not because he informed his players of his decision then he told the administration.
“I think in life, sometimes, you’ve got to move forward,” Anderson said. “That’s what I’ve done.”
Anderson conceded that the only emotional part of the game was competing against Bowers and junior Phil Pressey, the two remaining holdovers from his Mizzou tenure. Pressey rebounded from a five-turnover first half to finish with eight points and six assists (and zero turnovers after the break), while Bowers, who scored a season-low two points and had four rebounds against Arkansas a month ago, bounced back to score a team-high 24 points and grab a season-high 11 rebounds on Tuesday.
Sophomore guard Jabari Brown (23 points), junior guard Earnest Ross (11 points) and Oriakhi (10 points, eight rebounds) also scored in double figures for Missouri, which completed its home slate with a 17-0 record and went undefeated at home for the first time since the 2008-2009 season, when Anderson led the Tigers to the Elite Eight.
But on Tuesday night, the memories of that season seemed like a distant memory. This game was about revenge — for Haith, his players and even the fans, who booed Anderson one last time as he walked off the court.
However, it was also about sending the seniors out right. And as Bell, Oriakhi and Bowers walked off the court together for the final time, arms raised as the crowd gave them a standing ovation with three minutes, 17 seconds left, it was the scoreboard — which read Missouri 88, Arkansas 57 — that made it clear the Tigers had succeeded on both counts.
“This was the way I wanted to go out my Senior Night,” Bowers said.