Final Score: Missouri over VCU, 68-65
Twitter-compatible recap: Pressey plays possum, comes alive late w/clutch finish. Bowers strong, frosh guard emerges. Tigers fight off cold-shooting Rams to snag 3rd.
Pressey didn’t press against the press. Though the junior floor general did turn the ball over five times, those turnovers came in the half-court. Pressey, as Duke’s ball-handlers did last night, handled VCU’s swarming press about as well as possible.
He didn’t press with the game on the line either. After Briante Weber hit a go-ahead 3 with less than two minutes remaining to give VCU a two-point lead—and then jawed with Pressey after the shot—Missouri’s star guard came right back down the floor, stopped on a dime and drained a step-back triple himself over the outstretched arm of Weber. On the following possession, Pressey double-clutched, then swished a leaning floater (degree of difficult: 9.8) with the shot clock set to expire to extend Missouri’s lead to three.
What fatigue? Playing three games in three days appeared to take a toll on VCU in the first half. If anyone was going to feel the effects of the grueling tournament schedule, it was Shaka Smart’s team given its full-court, perpetual intensity style of play. The Rams, however, responded in the second half, ratcheting up the defense and continuing at the team’s torrid pace. Missouri, working with just a 7-man rotation without Michael Dixon, was able to match VCU blow for blow. Phil Pressey went the distance in this one, resting only during the 90-second television timeouts and at halftime. In all, the junior point guard logged 110 minutes in the three-day tournament. The kicker? His best [and most valuable] production came in minute #110. That’s impressive toughness, stamina and floor leadership by the future All-American.
Negus Webster-Chan. The list of point guards funneling through Missouri is never-ending, is it? Just wait, there are more on the way. In the meantime, the Tigers can take solace in the impressive play of Webster-Chan, the freshman who will likely take over the point guard duties next season if/when Pressey jumps to the NBA. Webster-Chan demonstrated poise beyond his years on Saturday, chipping in 12 points (4-8 FG), grabbing five boards and dealing out an assist. He plays under control with the basketball, is extremely long and athletic and can score at a high level. Webster-Chan’s minutes will recede when Dixon returns, though through no fault of his own.
Laurence Bowers double-double. He’s on a mission to win comeback player of the year honors after missing last year with a torn ACL, and he’s certainly off to a good star. Bowers posted 14 points along with 11 rebounds to quietly lead the way for Mizzou. With Alex Orikahi flanking him down low, expect the Tigers senior forward to put up some impressive numbers this season. Missouri doesn’t have a ready replacement for Marcus Denmon or Kim English. The Tigers can, however, replace Ricardo Ratliffe without skipping a beat thanks to the Bowers’ strong resurgence.
What the win means for Mizzou. For Missouri to come into the most loaded preseason tournament in college basketball—one of the toughest fields in recent memory—and win two of three without one of the team’s star guards underscores just how deep [and better balanced] this team is. The transfers are beginning to settle comfortably into new roles (though we have to wait and see how they react to reshuffling once Dixon returns). Ernest Ross finally began hitting shots tonight, though he did jack up one too many. Keion Bell and Tony Criswell were effective off the bench, Bell with his scoring and Criswell on the glass. With more cohesion and the reintroduction of Dixon, the ceiling is still rather high in Columbia.
VCU’s interior defense. It betrayed Shaka Smart for much of the night. The Rams were abused inside, not only by Bowers, but also dribble penetration. VCU owns perhaps the most resilient and active perimeter defense in college basketball, but in the rare instances where the guards get beat, the Rams appear very much vulnerable inside. Missouri’s lopsided advantage on the boards (36-25 advantage) certainly adds credence to VCU’s interior holes.