NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Having lost to Texas A&M once this season, Missouri had a pretty good idea of what it could expect in its SEC Tournament game against the Aggies on Thursday.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Slow. Physical. Plodding. That’s what A&M coach Billy Kennedy wanted the game to be, and to the Aggies’ credit, it was all those things. Only the Tigers were ready and willing to muck it up, as they beat A&M 62-50 at Bridgestone Arena.
Sixth-seeded Missouri, 23-9, advanced to the quarterfinals, where the Tigers will play third-seeded Mississippi at 9 p.m. Friday. The game will serve as a rubber match in the season series, as both teams held serve at home during the regular season.
But to get there, the Tigers first had to exorcise some demons against an A&M team that handed them a 70-68 loss in College Station on Feb. 7. In that game, Missouri led by one with 50 seconds left but gave the game away on a turnover that led to a game-winning three-pointer.
On Thursday, the Tigers made sure this one would never be close. They seemed determined to show A&M that they were ready to match their physicality from the start.
Senior forward Alex Oriakhi opened the game with a slam dunk and punctuated it with a scream. Senior forward Laurence Bowers added a three-pointer, which was followed by another slam and scream by Oriakhi. A three-pointer by Earnest Ross gave Missouri a 10-4 lead at the first timeout, and while no one knew it at the time, the Tigers would never trail.
Oriakhi finished with a team-high 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“He was dialed in, been a lot more vocal,” MU coach Frank Haith said. “…we’ve asked him to do that and he’s really taken heed to that.”
On defense, the Tigers regularly challenged shots and rotated. MU held Texas A&M to 14 for 59 shooting (23.7 percent).
A&M’s leading scorer, Elston Turner, scored only seven points.
“We wanted six guys on him at all times,” Haith said. “A guy like that, great scorer like that, I want to make sure our attention was on him at all times.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers shot 20 for 44 (45.5 percent). MU’s efficient attack was led by point guard Phil Pressey, who didn’t attempt his only shot until the second half. He finished with five assists.
“He controlled the game,” Haith said, “only took one shot, but he handled the ball, got us in our offense and I thought he did a good job on the ball, too.”
The only thing holding MU back early was foul trouble. Both Bowers and Oriakhi sat for large chunks of the first half with two fouls and Missouri’s seven turnovers didn’t help.
The second half opened with the same plodding pace but MU soon opened up an even bigger lead.
Oriakhi, finally back from the bench, opened the half with his fourth slam of the game, and Bowers eventually followed with a three and a pair of free throws. MU led 35-23 and Texas A&M, 18-15, would fall behind by as many as 21 points.
Missouri will deal with another late start time Friday, and with the Rebels boasting one of the league’s top forward tandems in seniors Murphy Holloway (14.6 points per game) and Reginald Buckner (9.4), the Tigers will also need another strong effort from their big men. Missouri outrebounded A&M 48-34.
“As long as we can rebound and defend and play solid on offense,” MU’s Keion Bell said, “I believe we have a good chance to come away with the win.”