For a third straight game the Missouri men’s basketball team started slowly at its regular season-opener Saturday night. After overcoming early deficits to Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Southern in exhibition play, the No. 15 Tigers dug themselves another hole against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville before finally jumping out to an 83-69 win at Mizzou Arena.
Missouri held a two-point lead to open the match after a senior forward Alex Oriakhi layup, but SIUE’s Derian Shaffer knocked down a jumper to tie the game.
The Cougars took the lead on the next possession on a three pointer from Jerome Jones and held it until only 6:40 remained in the half when freshman guard Negus Webster-Chan hit his first 3 of the night to give MU a 27-26 lead.
“I’m so excited about Negus,” coach Frank Haith said. “He’s beyond his years as a player … He’s always in the right place. He doesn’t over-dribble and, as a basketball coach, I love that. He only does what he can do.”
Webster-Chan finished the contest with 11 points. He knocked down three 3-pointers, all in the first half that helped the Tigers climb back into the driver’s seat as the period closed. His triple from the wing with 47 seconds left capped an 11-1 Missouri run, giving the Tigers a 40-34 lead entering the locker room.
MU opened up a 12-5 run to start the half, cranking up the defensive pressure and forcing SIUE to settle for poor shots. Oriakhi’s seven rebounds in the half helped MU open up the transition game.
The Connecticut transfer’s outlet passes found the able hands of junior guard Phil Pressey, who ran a crisp second half offense, finding senior forward Laurence Bowers, who scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the period, in the paint for easy buckets. On one break, Bowers jammed over two defenders, stretching the MU lead to 18 and forcing SIUE to take a timeout to quell Missouri’s momentum.
“That’s the first time I’ve dunked in a game in a long time,” said Bowers, who played his first regular season game in two years after missing the entirety of the 2011 season with an ACL tear. “But it’s just two points. I think that our offensive execution was good in spurts and that’s what led to it, the great pass by Phil.”
Just two minutes later, the Tigers reached their largest lead of the night, 22 points, off a four-point-play from freshman forward Stefan Jankovic, who came into the game to erase any suspicions of him redshirting. Webster-Chan took a pass from senior guard Keion Bell, ball faked to the middle and found Jankovic open on the left wing for three.
“I just took my same mentality from the exhibition games into our first regular season game,” Webster-Chan said.
The Ontario native served as the Tigers’ replacement for senior guard Michael Dixon, still suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Webster-Chan logged 34 minutes in his stead. Along with his 11 points, good enough for third best on the team, he had four assists and three steals.
Haith declined to set a timetable for Dixon’s return afterward. Today’s contest marks the 16th day the Kansas City native has been inactive.
Still relishing his newfound place in the spotlight, Webster-Chan said he wouldn’t mind having the preseason Southeastern Conference second-teamer back in the lineup.
“We can’t wait for him to come back,” he said.