Behind senior forward Laurence Bowers’ 23 points, the No. 15 Missouri men’s basketball team started fast and never looked back against Appalachian State on Saturday.
Bowers scored the game’s first seven points to set the Tigers (6-1) ablaze in a 72-56 rout in front of 9,388 at Mizzou Arena.
“I just wanted to come out and help the team in the first half,” Bowers said.
His 23 points tied a career high and 21 of them came in the first half.
“A lot of my shots, I was just the beneficiary of a great pass,” Bowers said. “We always preach good shot versus great shot and all of my shots I believe were great shots because they were in the rhythm of the offense.”
The Tigers never trailed in the contest, aided by Bowers’ layup in transition just 27 seconds in. Then junior forward Earnest Ross fed Bowers in the paint for another bucket and senior center Alex Oriakhi’s fade-screen set up the 6-foot-8-inch senior for three from the corner.
“When you work on something a lot it just comes naturally,” Bowers said. “I just try to work on my perimeter shots after practice all the time and I just got to continue to be consistent.”
That consistency has been one of Tigers’ most pleasant surprises. Bowers surpassed Pressey as the team’s leading scorer tonight and has become Missouri’s top scoring option.
“We don’t really talk about being a go-to guy right now," coach Frank Haith said. "I think we have a number of guys who can score and Laurence has really worked hard at his game at being a more well-rounded player.”
The Memphis native shot 9 of 11 from the field on the night and was only bested by the Mountaineer’s Jay Canty, who tallied a game-high 29 points.
Appalachian State mounted a 10-0 run around halftime to cut Missouri’s lead, which at its largest in the half was 24 points, down to 18.
Missouri, however, responded with a 14-4 run of its own, sparked by six of senior guard Keion Bell’s 12 points on the night, to stretch the lead to 25.
Bell, one of Haith’s highly touted transfers, started at the shooting guard spot through the preseason and into the beginning of the year, but came off the bench in a win over Virginia Commonwealth and again Saturday as a spark for the Tigers and a strong defensive presence.
“Every single game, Keion is getting better,” junior guard Phil Pressey said. “That’s all we can ask for. And I feel like if he keeps playing as he is on the defensive side, he’s playing great defense and rebounding — if he does that, the offense is gonna take care of itself.”
As Bell and Ross, who finished with 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds, filled the stat sheet in the second half, Bowers was not finished.
Running the break 3-on-1 with Pressey, the guard shot him a no-look underhand pass that Bowers jammed from the left side of the key just under the Southeastern Conference logo for his final points of the game.
That lone field goal in the second half tied his career-high in points.
“That one shot in the second half was a great shot, obviously. It was a dunk,” he said afterwards in jest, referencing again Haith’s good-shot-great-shot creed.
The win comes just days after senior guard Michael Dixon announced he would transfer from the university after allegation of rape from 2010 and earlier this year surfaced.
The game, the team acknowledged, was a welcome return to normalcy after a week of uncertainty regarding Dixon’s future. He was suspended Oct. 26, before Missouri’s preseason schedule began, for a “violation of team rules.”
No timetable was set for his return until the first accusations came to light on Tuesday, and the next on Thursday, deeming his return unlikely.
“We really came together after the (Dixon) situation,” Bowers said. “He’s our brother and we hate that it happened, but it did. So we just to continue to build the chemistry on this team because this is the team we’ve been playing with since the beginning.”