Had the Missouri men’s basketball team decided to play the brand of offense it has grown accustomed to over the years, it would have likely had Mercer huffing-and-puffing. Mercer started four forwards while MU continued its four-guard starters.
But part of first-year coach Frank Haith’s agenda has been to change the offensive theory to a more conservative approach. And judging from his team’s drubbing of the Bears on Monday night at Mizzou Arena by a score of 81-63, players have adapted well.
“We’re all capable of changing how we played last year to now,” said sophomore point guard Phil Pressey. “It’s not that hard because we’re all talented players and we put it on ourselves to play how our coach wants us to play.”
Pressey — a player Haith likens to T.J. Ford, the eighth overall NBA Draft choice of 2003 whom he coached at Texas as an assistant — quarterbacked the scoring attack. He finished with a career high 22 points on 3-6 from the perimeter.
Pressey ran the offense with the poise of a seasoned point guard and by the end of the first half, his team led by 16 points. But in the second half, the young court commander showed his youth.
“I was part of a team at the University of Texas that had a young point guard, a kid named T.J. Ford,” said Haith. “He was a sophomore, but he could handle it. Phil, I’m not saying he’s T.J. Ford, but he’s pretty doggone good and he can handle it. He can handle me saying, You got to take ownership and when things are going ragged, you can’t be the one doing it. You got to get us back in play.”
Pressey committed three turnovers in the second half and with 5:31 left in the game, his team saw their lead crunched to 10.
“Coach told me I can’t make people look bad,” Pressey said. “At the end of the game I got to take control and finish the game like a great point guard should do. I’m gonna work on that and fix my mistakes.”
Junior Mike Dixon, the backup point guard to Pressey, came off the bench to make an impact, as he has done throughout the Tigers’ early schedule. He added 14 points and helped to energize a defense that had Mercer frazzled.
“Me and Phil love to get out and put pressure on and make people uncomfortable,” Dixon said. “It’s one of our trademarks and what we pride ourselves on… Pressure busts pipes.”
Against the threat of the comeback from Mercer, senior guard Kim English, playing the four spot, launched his sixth three-point shot of the game and connected from the left corner.
From there, Pressey carried out the duties of a point guard closing the game with his team ahead.
He moved the ball patiently on his side of the court and let the clock tick away.