The No. 13 Tigers (5-1) took down Virginia Commonwealth (3-3) in dramatic fashion 68-65 to take third place in arguably the nation’s best non-conference tournament.
Leading by one with 15 seconds remaining, senior guard Phil Pressey (11 points, eight assists) split a double team to hit a runner from the elbow to give MU a lead that proved insurmountable. VCU guard Troy Daniels’s three rimmed out on the Rams’ next possession, so with 2.1 ticks left, the Commonwealth sent junior forward Tony Criswell to the line to shoot in the bonus.
Criswell missed the free throw, but senior forward Laurence Bowers, who posted a double-double with a game-high 14 points and 11 boards, happened upon the rebound and held on as the buzzer sounded, allowing the Tigers to hang on for their fifth win in front of a sold out “Imperial Arena,” a hotel ballroom turned-4,000 seat basketball cathedral.
The Rams led for the majority of the first half forcing the Tigers into a frantic, up-tempo pace with their famed “havoc” defense. A 10-2 Missouri run put the Tigers ahead 30-28 at the break.
In the second half Missouri extended its lead to nine and seven points after different runs, but VCU always countered. With 3:28 Darius Theus hit two free throws to put the Rams up 60-59.
Then senior guard Keion Bell (12 points, four rebounds) hit a layup that gave Missouri a lead, which swung back to VCU after a Rob Brandenberg (10 points) jumper. Bowers finished in the lane then VCU’s Briante Weber knocked down a three. Unfazed, Pressey hit a triple himself from the corner to put Missouri up for good.
Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham each had a team-high 12 points for the Rams. Graham pitched in five assists and Reddic nine rebounds.
Freshman guard Negus Webster-Chan, starting in place of Bell and presumably senior guard Michael Dixon, still suspended for violating team rules, notched 11 more points for the Tigers. Junior guard Earnest Ross finished with 11 points as well. Five Tigers finished with double-digit scoring.
No. 2 Louisville and No. 5 Duke play for the tournament championship at 9:30 p.m. Saturday night.
Missouri next hosts Appalachian State Dec. 1 at 2 p.m.