Through a frenetic finish, No. 12 Missouri outlasted visiting Bucknell, 66-64, in front of over 13,000 at Mizzou Arena Sunday.
Junior guard Phil Pressey posted a career high 26-points, including seven consecutive points in a 90-second stretch in the second half, to lead the Tigers (11-2) past the Bison (13-3) and avenge an overtime loss to UCLA eight days ago.
“We didn't execute down the stretch and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t have any of those same plays this game,” senior forward Laurence Bowers said, comparing MU’s latest win to the loss against the Bruins.
“I thought everyone on the court showed true toughness and Phil dictated the pace of the game,” he added. “We came away with the win, this was a great win for our team and I’m ecstatic.”
A triple by Pressey from the top of the key gave MU a 60-57 lead with just under three minutes remaining that the Bison could not overcome.
Bucknell’s Joe Willman and junior guard Earnest Ross traded jumpers until Mike Muscala pulled down an offensive board for Bucknell and finished with a layup. Then Pressey broke through the Bisons’ pressure and found senior guard Keion Bell for a dunk in transition.
Muscala, who finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds, answered with another layup to cut the lead to one. Bucknell had a chance to take the lead after a Pressey missed free throw, but Muscala stepped on the baseline with 4.1 seconds left to seal the Tigers’ 11th win.
MU trailed 24-28 at the half and limped by on just 34 percent shooting in the frame. Tiger guards combined for six turnovers in the half and zero assists.
Bucknell was even the first team to out-rebound Missouri all year. Averaging 47.4 boards per game, the Tigers are the top rebounding team in the nation.
“I think we did a good job defensively, rebounding especially, that's Missouri's biggest strength and something they lead the country in,” Muscala said. “I think that we did a pretty good job keeping them off the glass. In the second half we just let them get in to too much of a comfort zone, that hurt us.”
Missouri quickly settled in to begin the second period, launching an 11-5 run en route to 51.6 percent shooting. Nineteen of Pressey’s 26 points came in the stanza as did all of his game-high five assists.
“Our goal with him going in was to make him score, hopefully not 26, but to not let him be a distributer, because that really fed them,” Bison coach Dave Paulsen said of his plans to keep the All-American point guard in check. “We did a great job in the first half. In the second half as he started to hit some of those shots … he was able to also set his teammates up.”
MU will face Alabama on Tuesday in its first contest with a Southeastern Conference foe since joining the group July 1, 2012.
Normally thought to be a football power conference (Alabama will play for the BCS National Championship Monday evening), two SEC teams are ranked in the Associated Press’s top 25 poll (MU at 12 and Florida at 13) while Kentucky received 13 votes toward a ranking.
Missouri coach Frank Haith remains confident in his team’s level of play as the conference schedule draws closer.
"I love where we are at.,” he said. “I love our team. I love our attitude and our toughness.”