Coming off their overtime road loss to UCLA last week, the Missouri Tigers basketball team had another huge nonconference challenge in front of them on Saturday afternoon as the 13-2 Bucknell Bison visited the Tigers in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday.
As many experts expected, the Bison came to play and gave Mizzou a run for their money, but the Tigers were able to escape with a hard-fought 66-64 victory.
Head coach Frank Haith's Tigers trailed most of the first half as Bucknell controlled the tempo, keeping the Tigers' high-flying offense in check. Bucknell took a 28-24 lead to the locker room over the No. 12-ranked Tigers.
Haith made a halftime adjustment, inserting freshman Stefan Jankovic into the lineup to start the second half. The 6'11" forward immediately responded, scoring five quick points on MIzzou's first two possessions to help propel the Tigers on a nice second-half run and a high-quality, resume-building victory over a very good Bucknell team.
While Jankovic got the momentum flowing in MIzzou's direction to start the second half, it was standout point guard Phil Pressey who literally carried the Tigers to victory.
Coming off a dynamic 19-assist performance last week against UCLA, Pressey decided to score the ball more himself against the Bison, pouring in a game and career-high 26 points, most of which came in the second half. Pressey did manage to get his teammates involved as well, dishing out five assists.
Many of those assists went to leading scorer Laurence Bowers, who scored 16 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds in front of the home crowd at MIzzou Arena.
While Pressey and Bowers excelled, many other Tigers struggled.
Sophomore guard Jabari Brown scored just three points, making just one of his nine attempts from the floor. Junior guard Earnest Ross was nearly as miserable from the field, netting just five points while also making only one bucket on nine attempts.
As a team, the Tigers were horrible from the charity strike, knocking down only five of their 13 attempts. The bad performance from the foul line included a huge miss by Pressey in the game's final minute, a mistake that nearly came back to cost the Tigers.
The game was a back-and-forth affair for most of the afternoon, with neither team having more than a six-point lead at any point during the game. Bucknell was at the free-throw line, trailing by three with three seconds to go, but was unable to secure a rebound that was fittingly grabbed by Jankovic as time expired.
Mizzou had a tough time stopping Bucknell big man Mike Muscala, who scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds while dominating the paint. It was Muscala's work on the boards that was a key contributing factor that helped the Bison hang with the high-flying Tigers, who led the nation in team-rebounding coming into the game. Mizzou did out-rebound Bucknell, grabbing 38 boards to Bucknell's 35.
Despite Muscala's effort, Pressey and company were just too much for the Bison to overcome as the Tigers extended their home-court, nonconference winning streak to 73 games.