Columbia, MO – The 12th-ranked Missouri Tigers close out their non-conference schedule on Saturday, when they welcome the Bucknell Bison to Columbia for a showdown at Mizzou Arena.
Frank Haith's Tigers have won 10 of their first 12 games on the year, but come into this contest off one of those two losses, a 97-94 overtime setback at UCLA last Friday. The loss brought an end to a six-game win streak for Missouri, four of which came at home, where the Tigers are a perfect 7-0 on the year.
Dave Paulsen's Bison are among the nation's leaders in total wins thus far, sitting at 13-2 overall. Once again one of the top teams in the Patriot League, Bucknell enters this contest with a brief two-game win streak in tow, topping Loyola Maryland and most recently, Cornell (72-56). The win over Cornell was on the road, where Bucknell is an impressive 6-2 this season.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams on the hardwood.
The Bison are one of the most productive small school teams due in large part to the play of big man Mike Muscala. The 6-foot-11 senior center is a dominant force in the paint, averaging 18.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. A three-time All-Patriot League performer, Muscala was the Player of the Year in the conference in 2011. He is not alone in terms of production, as three other starters are averaging double-digit scoring in guards Bryson Johnson (11.7 ppg) and Cameron Ayers (11.6 ppg) and forward Joe Willman (11.0 ppg). Despite the number of quality options at the offensive end, Bucknell is averaging a modest 69.1 ppg. The team has been strong defensively, limiting foes to just 58.7 ppg and holding them to a mere .369 shooting (17th nationally).
The Bison used a 15-4 run over the last five+ minutes to earn a hard-fought win at Cornell last time out. Ayers led four players in double figures with 16 points. Johnson added 15 points to the cause, while Muscala was once again a force in the paint, recording his ninth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Willman added 10 points in the win, as a strong second half saw the Bison convert a scorching 78.9 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes (15-of-19).
A potent team with great balance both inside and out, Missouri is averaging 79.5 ppg on the year. Laurence Bowers is the Tigers' go-to-guy in the frontcourt, shooting .573 from the floor and leading the team in scoring (16.9 ppg) and ranking second in rebounding (6.9 rpg). Fellow forward Alex Oriakhi imposes his will inside as well, averaging 10.3 points and a team-best 8.9 rebounds per game. Jabari Brown is a potent backcourt scorer at 14.7 ppg, while Phil Pressey runs the show, with the ability to create open looks for others (SEC-best 7.3 apg) and himself (12.8 ppg). Earnest Ross rounds out the top scoring options on the team at 10.2 ppg.
Despite shooting a solid .475 from the floor and owning a 50-36 edge in rebounding, the Tigers weren't able to outlast UCLA last time out, falling to the red-hot Bruins in overtime. The loss spoiled an absolute brilliant performance by Pressey who finished with 19 points and 19 assists. Bowers and Keion Bell poured in 17 points each, while Ross and Brown finished with 16 and 14 points, respectively. Pressey's 19 assists set a new school record, while tying the SEC mark.