Published November 14, 2012
COLUMBIA, Mo. – With a little more than two minutes remaining in the first half, Alcorn State had No. 14 Missouri where it wanted. The team only trailed by two points, and the Tigers seemingly couldn't make a shot.
Problem was, Alcorn State couldn't either.
"You have to execute on both ends," coach Luther Riley said. "Give them one shot, block out and rebound. Offensively, trust the system."
LeAntwan Luckett scored 14 points and Anthony Nieves added 13, but the Braves (1-1) only shot 30.6 percent, including 9 of 31 in the first half, and lost 91-54 on Tuesday night.
Alcorn State managed to keep the halftime deficit to seven points despite several players participating in their first game against Division I competition, including Luckett, a highly-touted recruit who sat out his freshman season.
Pressey scored 21 points and Laurence Bowers added 14, all in the second half, for Missouri (2-0), which used an 18-3 run across halftime and shot 58.6 percent in the closing half to blow the game open.
"They executed their plays," Luckett said. "They come up with steals. They just listened to their coach. Their point guard just led the team real well. What else can I say?"
Bowers went 3 of 4 from behind the arc, his first 3-pointers since the 2009-10 season after going 0 for 8 in 2010-11 and missing last season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"When you have four guys out there as opposed to two or three that can shoot it, it just makes you tougher to guard," Haith said.
Bowers' second-half surge followed a similar performance in the opener against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, when he scored 18 of his 20 points in the closing half. The problem, he says, is the team's energy level. Only after a stern halftime message from Haith was the team able to pull away.
"It was a sense of us being lethargic," Bowers said. "Coach got under us, and we came out in the second half playing with a fire under us. And we ended up playing great. That halftime speech was a spark."
"Next game, I said in the huddle, we need to put two halves together and I think that's what we're going to do. We're going to come out with a better focus."
Bowers scored eight consecutive points five minutes into the second half to give the Tigers a 56-31 advantage, capped by a two-handed dunk off a pass from Pressey that triggered the loudest reaction from the 8,013 in attendance.
Missouri won its 67th consecutive home game against a non-conference opponent dating back to the 2005-06 opener.
Pressey says his halfcourt passes to Bowers are nothing new; he remembers doing the same two years ago during his freshman season. He's just happy to have Bowers back.
"Pressey played with poise the entire game," Riley said. "He managed the game, when they didn't have the offense. And they trusted him to manage the game and I think he did a great job."
Haith said it's nice to have a guard such as Pressey who can see plays develop and affect the game in a positive way even when he doesn't score.
"We don't want Phil thinking he has to do everything himself," Haith said. "And that's the trust we need him to continue to develop within his teammates."
Bowers and Pressey were the only players on the court who had worn a Missouri uniform prior to this season as Michael Dixon watched his second consecutive game from the bench, suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Dixon also missed both of the team's exhibition games, and coach Frank Haith declined to specify a timetable for his return.
"I'll let you guys know, as I've said from day one, when he's not suspended," Haith said. "He is still suspended."
Alcorn State, out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, went 10-22 in Riley's first season in 2011-12, a six-win improvement from the Braves' previous season. The team defeated Oakville University of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association in its opener Sunday, 85-41.
The Braves were picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams in the SWAC this season by conference coaches.
The matchup was part of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, though the outcome had no bearing on the field headed to the Bahamas next week. The only previous matchup between the two teams was an 82-51 Missouri win on Dec. 1, 1981.
"It's a learning experience for us and we have to continue to believe, as we spoke about before the game, believe in each other and the system, trust each other and have each other's back," Riley said. "That's what Missouri did tonight."