Down 10 points at the half to Southeast Missouri State, men’s basketball coach Frank Haith saved some choice words for his No. 12 Missouri Tigers.
“Continue to encourage I guess is the word at halftime,” Haith said as a sly grin spread across his face.
2011’s Associated Press coach of the year had reason to smile Tuesday night when the Tigers (7-1) overcame an 11-point deficit to the Redhawks (6-5) to pull out an 81-65 win.
Senior forward Laurence Bowers led the Tigers with a career-high and game-high 26 points and junior guard Phil Pressey quietly added 17 more, 10 of which came in the second half when Missouri outscored SEMO 46-20. Bowers had 15 points in the second half, himself.
“I was just trying to be fearless and attack the basket and everything was just falling for me,” Bowers said. “And if it wasn’t I got to the line a few times. I just got to continue to build off that.”
Just three minutes into the half, the Tigers launched a 20-4 run in which every basket was scored by Pressey or Bowers.
Pressey hit two free throws to cut the SEMO lead to eight, then Bowers knocked down a jumper and Pressey drove the lane to force a foul. Two more free throws from the guard cut the lead to three, and after two Redhawk foul shots pushed the margin to five, Bowers hit a three from the corner.
Pressey split a pair of free throws to bring the deficit to one. Then Bowers, taking a pass from Pressey, spun to the outside for a jumpshot to give Missouri a lead they would never give back.
“Laurence, he can do everything,” senior guard Keion Bell said. “He can stretch the defense. He can make post moves. He can play physical. He can shoot threes. He can pass the ball. His skill set is so diverse that you can’t really come up with a game plan on how to stop him.”
Bowers carried Missouri through the first half when the team shot just 40 percent from the field and an agile SEMO frontcourt gave Tiger forwards fits on both offense and defense.
SEMO forward Tyler Stone matched Bowers’s 11 first-half points with 11 of his own and guard Corey Wilford tacked on 14 as the Redhawks went to intermission with momentum and shooting an exceptionally high 55.2 percent.
“I thought the first half we held our own,” SEMO coach Dickey Nutt said. “I thought we played hard. I thought we played good. We were very patient. We shot the ball well … In the second half they turned up the defense a little bit and I was disappointed that we didn’t really respond as well as we should have.”
In the second half the Tigers chased the Redhawks off the three-point line and forced the visitors, who shot eight of 15 from beyond the arch in the first half, into one of 11 shooting from three point land in the second.
SEMO only made eight field goals in the second period all together and were stifled in part by Bell who has emerged for Haith’s squad as the go-to defensive stopper.
“I’ve always had the potential to be an excellent defender. I still haven’t reached potential yet, but I believe that I’ve made steps in the right direction,” Bell said. “I’ve always had the potential to be a good defender, I’ve just never been called upon at my previous schools (to do that).”
The leading scorer at Pepperdine after he transferred in 2011, Bell recorded his fist double-double at Missouri with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“That’s that easy to be an 18-point per game scorer your whole career, scoring 1,400-1,500 points, knowing that you can do that, but doing what we think you need to do to help us win,” Haith said. “That’s being a lockdown defender, rebounder and the scoring will take care of itself.”