Versatile Pressey leads Missouri to bronze in Bahamas

Phil Pressey’s adroit play down the stretch helped Missouri ward off VCU.

Junior guard Phil Pressey looks for an open teammate in the Nov. 10 game against Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers finished third in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Maneater File Photo

Senior guard Phil Pressey only scored 11 points in No. 16 Missouri’s win over Virginia Commonwealth University on Saturday, but that total already surpasses his 2011 scoring average.

With the departures of leading scorers Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe from last year’s Big 12 Conference tournament championship team and the suspension of senior guard Michael Dixon, the typically pass-first Pressey has morphed into a go-to point producer for the Tigers (5-1).

“I don’t look at myself as a go-to scorer — I just feel like when the opportunity presents itself, I just try to be a playmaker,” he said. “Whether that’s scoring the ball, passing the ball, getting a key steal (or) just being a playmaker. Playmaking can lead to a lot of stuff, like scoring or getting a key assist.”

No stretch greater exemplified Pressey’s “playmaker” style than MU’s final five possessions against the Rams in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament consolation final.

Pressey found senior guard Keion Bell with a no-look backdoor pass. Bell then finished with a reverse layup to give Missouri the lead. After that, Pressey hit senior forward Laurence Bowers on the break for an open layup.

A three from VCU guard Briante Weber gave the Rams a two-point lead, but Pressey countered with a triple of his own from the left wing with 1:18 left.

With 57 seconds left, a VCU foul gave the ball back to the Tigers, but pressure from the Rams’ famed “havoc” defense forced Pressey into a turnover. Not to be outdone, the 5-foot-11-inch guard badgered Rams guard Darius Theus into a corner and knocked the loose ball off his leg. With the turnover averted, MU retained possession with 49 seconds left.

Pressey dribbled the shot clock down to 10 seconds before driving left, dribbling right and knocking down a one-handed flip shot from inside the wing, giving Missouri an insurmountable 68-65 lead.

“Those are shots that during the offseason I work on every single day,” he said. “My teammates have confidence in me to shoot those shots, and that just helps me out.”

That circus shot, which sealed the Tigers’ third-place finish in the eight-team tournament, even wowed coach Frank Haith, who had taken a timeout as the shot clock hit 10 seconds to diagram a play.

“It’s just like we drew it up in the huddle,” Haith said jokingly. “When you’re a great player, you’ve gotta work on seriously tough shots and awkward shots, and I think sometimes guys don’t practice those. But he does practice those one-foot floaters and step-back threes, and he goes at them full-speed.”

Pressey’s two clutch buckets nearly overshadowed his game-high eight assists the day after the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals forced him into more turnovers than assists.

With the preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year’s help, five Tigers finished with double-digit scoring.

“That’s one of the strengths of our team: balance,” Bowers said. “On any given night, someone can have a good game. And tonight so many people had a great game, and that was the key to us winning.”

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