With former Missouri coach Mike Anderson watching, his last two remaining Tiger recruits provided the moment that Missouri fans will take home with them.
Now the boss at Arkansas (18-12, 9-7 Southeastern Conference), Anderson stood idle as junior guard Earnest Ross stripped Razorbacks star BJ Young and the Tigers flew off to the races.
Junior guard Phil Pressey, once Anderson’s prized point guard, found senior Laurence Bowers, at a time Anderson’s gem of a forward from Memphis, for a resounding dunk that sent the sellout crowd at Mizzou Arena howling for more.
The slam put the Tigers (22-8, 11-6 SEC) up 20 and delivered a stamp of approval from the fans — manufactured by equal parts rage and excitement — on Missouri’s 93-63 Senior Night thumping of its rival to the south.
Bowers finished with a team-high 24 points and 11 rebounds, and fellow seniors Keion Bell and Alex Oriakhi added a combined 18 points and 12 boards in Missouri’s best reenactment of pigs at a slaughterhouse.
The victory, Missouri’s third straight, preserved the Tigers’ pristine 16-0 home record.
“You definitely want to hit your stride at this point,” Bowers said. “We’re in practice, we’re really grinding. We’re really getting after it and everybody has just bought in and the results are showing.”
A pair of first-half runs, 16-4 and then 14-4 moments later, opened up a 16-point Tiger lead that just kept growing, hitting 30 in the midst of a 10-5 second half run and swelling to 34 at its largest off sophomore guard Jabari Brown’s layup with 1:48 remaining.
Ross’s three-ball with four seconds left in the first half sent Missouri to the dressing rooms up 26 and capped a 20-5 run which Arkansas responded to with a 7-0 stretch of their own out of the break, similar to the 7-0 swing the Hogs put together to claim a 7-5 lead in the very early going.
“If you saw the game starting off, you’d say, ‘Oh OK, these guys are coming to play,’” Anderson said. “We did some good things attacking the basket, knocking some shots down, creating some turnovers, but it didn’t last long enough.”
From there, Missouri launched the 16-4 salvo, featuring six of Brown’s 23 points, five of Ross’s 11 and defensive tenacity that saw Haith lose his jacket and stalk the bench like a sixth defender.
During timeouts, the second year helmsman appealed to the student section for even more energy, sending his tie flapping about in a hurricane of fury.
“I looked at him on the sideline and I didn’t really recognize him,” Oriakhi said of Haith, whose Tigers held the Razorbacks to 31.3 percent shooting in the first half and 6.7 percent from three. “That was the most emotion I’ve ever seen out of him, but we feed off it.”
Missouri’s barrage continued as a scornful Mizzou Arena egged on the beat down of the team who stole their coach of five years in 2011 and a win from their Tigers in Fayetteville, Ark., just three weeks ago.
And though Anderson insists it was he who left the Missouri program in a position to become a perennial powerhouse, it was Haith’s praises, the engineer of the Tigers’ star-studded 2012-13 transfer class, the 15,061 fans were singing Tuesday night, chanting “Faith in Haith” as the thrashing continued.
“I thought our guys really bought in,” Haith said. “You have good talent, you have guys from different areas in terms of their roles in their other programs, you’re hoping and you’re doing your job in terms of educating them and communicating with them the role you want them to fit in for this team and that takes time. You’re gonna have some ups and downs, but if you stay the course, you’re hopeful you can have the incline at the end. And that’s where we’re at, I think.”