Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith might need to start pulling out his halftime pep talks early.
After stumbling to a lead in the first half, his No. 14 Tigers (2-0) scored 61 second-half points en route to a 91-54 drubbing of Alcorn State.
“There was a sense of us being lethargic (in the first half),” senior forward Laurence Bowers said. “Coach got under us, and we came out in the second half playing with a fire under us. We ended up playing great. That halftime speech was a spark.”
Junior guard Phil Pressey’s 12 first-half points (he finished with 21) kept Missouri afloat. Senior forward Alex Oriakhi, an old AAU teammate of Pressey, chipped in six points and seven boards on his way to his first double-double of the year.
The Tigers shot 23.1 percent from the field in the first period, hitting only nine shots, just as many as the Braves (1-1).
“Obviously we didn’t come out with the energy we need to have again in the first half,” Haith said. “I also thought we missed so many bunnies around the basket, and you saw our guys just build a little tension there.”
The teams ran neck-and-neck, each team’s lead not surpassing six points, until Pressey’s 3-pointer with 5 seconds left seemingly gave Missouri a spark.
Alcorn hung around to open the second period until junior guard Earnest Ross’s open 3-pointer from the wing jumpstarted a 15-5 Tiger run.
Pressey knocked down two free throws, then a runner in the lane, and Oriakhi scored two of his 12 points from the charity stripe. Bowers hit his first of three triples and a layup, and Ross capped the run with a layup and a foul.
“When you play on the road against a good team in a hostile environment, you have to play for 40 minutes,” Braves coach Luther Riley. “You can’t play 20 minutes or 15 minutes — you gotta play for 40 minutes."
An Anthony Evans 3-pointer quelled the rally, but Bowers responded with his own personal salvo, knocking down two threes from almost the same spot then running the floor and dunking in transition when Pressey shot him a no-look pass from half-court. He finished with 14 points.
Bowers, who redshirted the 2011 season with an ACL tear, had shot only a handful of 3-pointers in his junior year and didn’t make any of them. He said while he was rehabbing his knee last year he wanted to expand his range.
“I was just shooting after practice all the time, just putting extra emphasis on being able to make a three,” he said. “The year before, I only shot eight threes and didn’t make any, so that was something I really wanted to improve upon.”
A 21-1 Missouri run that spanned about five and a half minutes pumped the Tiger's lead to 42, the largest of the night.
Finally Missouri took its foot off the accelerator as freshmen Dominique Bull, Corey Haith and Danny Feldmann checked in and wound things down for the Tigers as some of the 8,013 attendees began to exit Mizzou Arena.
By the contest’s end Frank Haith had all but cast off Missouri’s sluggish start. Instead, he said, the second half was a valuable practice for his newly acquainted team. Only Pressey and suspended senior guard Michael Dixon have played a season under Haith’s system.
“I’m encouraged because we have one guy we coached last year,” he said. “… I’m always going to be encouraged as long as we finish out the way we need to finish out.”