Paul Pressey always told his sons that if they played the game the right way, everything else — wins, awards, notoriety — would take care of itself.
That lesson served Missouri sophomore point guard Phil Pressey particularly well Thursday, when he sparked the Tigers to a convincing 88-70 victory over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals at the Sprint Center.
Several teammates scored more points than Pressey — who finished with four — but in a game that was driven by Missouri’s commitment to defense, nobody was more disruptive than the Tigers’ 5-foot-10 point guard, who had five steals during a ridiculous 24-3 first-half run that put the Cowboys in a 25-point halftime hole they could not climb out of.
Not bad for a player who was left off the conference’s all-defensive team by the coaches. You could argue that Pressey deserved to make the team alongside teammate Michael Dixon, considering he led the league in steals with around two per game.
“I mean, I was appalled but it happened,” said Pressey, who finished with four points and 12 assists. “But it really doesn’t matter. I just focus on winning basketball games.”
While Missouri had several stars on this night — senior guards Kim English (27 points) and Marcus Denmon (24 points) each had several highlight-reel plays — even English said this victory started with defense.
“We came out with a concerted effort to defend, and that starts with Phil out top,” English said. “I mean, he was getting on-ball steals.
“And it was a track meet from that.”
That’s probably the perfect way to describe it. Oklahoma State, which was missing several key players because of injury and was playing for the second time in two nights, couldn’t keep up.
That was obvious from the start as the Tigers energized the pro-Missouri crowd of 18,972 with an array of steals, rebounds, three-pointers and fast-break layups. Of Oklahoma State’s nine turnovers, eight came in the first half, and all five of Pressey’s steals led to points.
“I thought our defense at the start of the ballgame was outstanding,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “We got back to guarding the ball the way were guarding the ball earlier in the year. I thought our intensity level was very good.”
Missouri, which hadn’t played in four days, shot a sizzling 59 percent from the field and also outrebounded Oklahoma State 40-20. Oklahoma State was coming off a first-round win over Texas Tech on Wednesday night.
“When you play a team that played the night before, you have a tendency not to be ready to play,” Haith said. “And these guys fought really hard against that.”
The Tigers were rolling so much in the first half that Haith played little-used hometown backups Jarrett Sutton (Oak Park) and Andrew Jones (Smithville).
English said the Tigers’ past Big 12 tournament performances at the Sprint Center — in which they lost to Nebraska his sophomore year and to Texas A&M his junior year — served as a reminder that they better come out swinging.
“We learn from our mistakes,” said English, who scored 21 of his points before halftime.
Oklahoma State fought hard to make a game of it in the second half. Guards Keiton Page finished with 22 points and Bryan Williams had 21 as the Cowboys cut the deficit down to 17 at point.
But the Tigers’ ensemble of scoring was just too much. Denmon exploded for 17 second-half points, while Michael Dixon (13 points), Ricardo Ratliffe (11 points) and Matt Pressey (seven points) each did their parts throughout the course of the game to keep Missouri in control.
Missouri improved to 28-4 and will Texas in a semifinal at 9 p.m. Friday. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if the Tigers got another outstanding defensive effort from their sophomore point guard, who insisted that the all-conference snub didn’t serve as extra motivation despite his initial shock.
“I’m just trying to amp up my defense,” Pressey said. “It’s tournament time. We’ve got to be on our P’s and Q’s.”