Leading by nine heading into halftime, the No. 15 Missouri men's basketball team (2-0 in exhibition play) may as well have been trailing.
Visiting mid-major Missouri Southern had jumped out to an early lead at the start of the Tigers' second preseason match. And though the score had swung in MU’s favor, the Lions ended the period on a 12-2 run.
But to open the second frame, Missouri ran out to a 57-35 lead, sparked by a 12-2 run that helped finish off the Lions in blowout fashion in the 86-60 win.
“We needed to play harder,” coach Frank Haith said he told his players during intermission. “We needed to have a little bit more intensity on the defensive end. We started the second half, got our hands on a lot of loose balls, got deflections and that was extremely important to who we are.”
A seemingly rejuvenated MU squad opened the half with junior guard Phil Pressey's fade-away jumper, then junior guard Earnest Ross' steal and finish by freshman guard Negus Webster-Chan, then a layup from Pressey on the break after Webster-Chan's steal.
“They turned the intensity up a little bit. I could see Mr. Haith got into them a little bit probably at halftime,” said junior MSSU guard Marquis Addison, who scored a team-high 19 points. “They really started to talk a little bit more and switch on the ball screens. That was the difference we noticed.”
Haith stressed the importance of steals and defense during the intermission, he said afterward, referencing the identity he wants his team to play with.
“I thought we were a little bit too cool to start the game,” he said. “But we were very intent there in the second half and we played in transition much better and made better decisions.”
With senior guard Michael Dixon, the leading returning scorer from 2011’s Big 12 Conference Tournament championship team, still suspended for violating team rules and senior guard Keion Bell out with an 103-degree fever, Webster-Chan started at shooting guard for the Tigers. Old high school teammate Stefan Jankovic came off the bench to split time with Ross at small forward. Webster-Chan finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Jankovic checked in just over five minutes into the game and made an instant impact, knocking down a three from the corner to give Missouri a 13-10 lead. The Tigers’ next possession, he drove baseline and finished with contact in the paint.
Yet his most iconic bucket of the night came in the second half, running the break with Webster-Chan after a Bowers steal. The 6-foot-11 Ontario native took a pass from Webster-Chan at the elbow and jammed over two defenders as an announced crowd of 7,324 rose to its feet.
Jankovic, who had merely one day of practice to prepare for the small forward role instead of typical power forward position, led all scorers with 20 points and pulled in five boards.
“When I stepped on the court I had a lot of confidence coming in,” he said. “The first three, of course, that always helps out, so I thought before the game I was pretty tuned in.”
Missouri’s regular season begins 4 p.m. Saturday against Southern Illinois-Edwardville at Mizzou Arena.