Published November 10, 2012
COLUMBIA, Mo. – While rehabbing all last season from a knee injury, Laurence Bowers was able to do a lot of shooting.
The 6-foot-8 forward showed off his increased range in No. 15 Missouri's 83-69 season-opening victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Saturday, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds.
The season before he was hurt, Bowers attempted just eight 3-pointers — and missed them all.
"I was shooting a ton when I was hurt, so it's paying off," Bowers said. "I've just got to continue to stay after practice and work out."
Coach Frank Haith pointed out that Bowers was on the line or just inside it on two other jumpers while going 9 for 14 overall.
"That's what we challenged him to do, make his game more well-rounded," Haith said. "Laurence, he was excited for Midnight Madness. I think he's just glad to be back, and guys, he's going to get better and better."
Bowers outscored the Cougars 10-2 by himself during a two-minute stretch early in the second half for the Tigers, who are ranked to start the season for a third straight year. Not much later, he dazzled with a tomahawk dunk.
"It felt good," Bowers said. "That's the first time I've dunked in a game in a long time."
Phil Pressey scored 13 of his 19 points in the first half and had nine assists with just two turnovers. Alex Oriakhi, part of a strong transfer class, had 15 rebounds, eight points and three blocked shots.
"Those guys, they're good," SIU Edwardsville coach Lennox Forrester said. "Pressey, he's an incredible guard. I thought that at times when they struggled for points, he just took over."
Jerome Jones hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points for SIU Edwardsville, which was held to 33 percent shooting. Reserve Michael Messer added 13 points but Mark Yelovich, the Cougars' top returning scorer, was held scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting with four fouls.
"There were segments in there where we kind of got rattled a little bit and lost our composure," Forrester said. "It's one of those games where you never know what to expect from your players."
Missouri won its 66th in a row at home against non-conference opponents since the end of the 2005-06 season without guard Michael Dixon, who is suspended for violating team rules. Dixon, perhaps the best sixth man in the nation for last season's 30-win team, also did not dress in both exhibitions.
Haith gave no timetable for Dixon's return, saying tersely, "We're not talking about that."
The Tigers won their home opener for the 38th time in 39 seasons in front of a late-arriving crowd of 10,054, many likely watching the Missouri football team's overtime victory at Tennessee that ended about 45 minutes before tip-off.
Haith was happy to divert his postgame remarks to another sport, adding that he watched the entire game on TV. But not the players.
"I don't let them watch, they're focused on the game," Haith said. "But I was watching."
Freshman Negus Webster-Chan hit all three of Missouri's 3-pointers in the first half, the last two coming over the final 2½ minutes to help build a 40-34 lead. The Tigers trailed most of the half, getting their first lead at 27-26 on Webster-Chan's 3-pointer from the corner off a feed from Pressey with about 6½ minutes to go.
Missouri took its largest lead of the game after outscoring SIU Edwardsville 7-0 over the final 2:55, and carried that momentum into the second half. The visitors couldn't keep up.
"We started getting careless, a couple turnovers and a couple quick shots that instantly turn into transition points," said Messer.
SIU Edwardsville came out firing from long range, hitting six of its first 14 3-point attempts. Jones tied his career high with four 3-pointers in the half and had 14 points, bettering last year's 12.7-point average.
The Cougars led by as many as six in the first half without any contribution from Kris Davis, who led the nation with a 60-percent 3-point percentage last season but sat out the final 18:47 of the half after picking up two quick fouls. He finished with 11 points.
"We want to be an up-tempo team, we want to be an aggressive team," Forrester said. "But at the same time we want to make sure we are disciplined at doing both."
SIU Edwardsville was 10-17 last season, its first in the Ohio Valley Conference, and is among just six Division-I schools with no freshmen. The school is 0-4 against current members of the SEC and 0-5 against Top 25 teams.