When senior forward Laurence Bowers sat Saturday on the floor of Mizzou Arena during the team's season opener against Southern Illinois, he drew puzzled glances from the Missouri bench.
Bowers had picked up two quick fouls, and coach Frank Haith thought to save the starting forward for the second half rather than risk him picking up more fouls.
So Bowers, shaking his head, retreated to the bench. He eyed a seat at the foul line and reaching for a towel and cup of water before he plopped his 6-foot-8-inch frame on a cushioned chair.
But before he could occupy that spot, freshman forward Stefan Jankovic slid to his right to make room for Haith, who had just settled at the head of the bench. With nowhere else to go, Bowers went to the floor, crossed his legs and made himself comfortable, watching the game like a kindergartener at story time.
For the next 10 minutes, the remainder of the first half, Bowers would do what he did the entirety of his 2011 season: sit, watch and learn. Recovering from a preseason ACL tear, Bowers could do nothing but rest at the end of the bench and take in Haith’s instruction.
“Last year I was a sponge,” Bowers said. “I soaked up a lot of knowledge from him just sitting over there on the sideline.”
Bowers eventually found a seat, and the Tigers, trailing by four when he left the game, clawed their way into a six-point lead at intermission.
In the second half, Bowers was hot out of the gate, scoring 10 of Missouri’s first 14 points. He went on to score a game-high 20 points, shooting 73 percent in the half.
He finished in the paint efficiently, converting a 3-point play on his first bucket of the half.
He shot the ball effectively, nailing two straight foot-on-the-line jumpers from the top of the key.
“He’s really worked hard at shooting the basketball, and that’s what we challenged him to do, make his game more well-rounded,” Haith said. “He hit two on-the-line twos. I think we’re comfortable with Laurence (Bowers) taking a 3-point shot.”
Bowers looked natural running the floor, taking a no-look, underhand pass from junior guard Phil Pressey and throwing down a monster dunk that sent the 10,000-plus fans at Mizzou Arena into a frenzy. It was the first dunk in a game since Bowers’ injury, sustained while dunking in practice.
“That’s the first time I’ve dunked in a game in a long time, but it’s just two points,” Bowers said, perhaps hinting at the multitude of other ways he scored. “… I’ve been working on my shot. I was shooting a ton when I was hurt, and it’s paying off. I just got to continue to stay after practice and work, and hopefully I can continue to be consistent.”
On Monday afternoon, Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports reported Haith would not play senior guard Michael Dixon in Tuesday’s game against Alcorn State. If he indeed does not return, his suspension will have run for 19 days. … After doing so throughout exhibition play, Haith continues to be willing to dig into his bench early in the regular season. Freshman Negus Webster-Chan, Stefan Jankovic and Ryan Rosburg played a combined 44 minutes versus Southern Illinois. … Jankovic’s first career regular season basket was a 3-pointer on which he was fouled. He converted the free throw and finished with seven points. … Haith said he watched Missouri football’s overtime win at Tennessee in his office before the game and discussed it in great detail during his own postgame press conference. When asked if the rest of the team watched the game as well, he responded, “I don't let them watch. They're focused on the game, but I was watching.”