COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri is one win away from a perfect home record in the regular season.
The Tigers want to give a big send-off to three seniors, two of whom fans are just getting to know.
Fifth-year senior Laurence Bowers is Missouri’s leading scorer with a 14.2-point average heading into the finale against Arkansas and former Tigers coach Mike Anderson on Tuesday.
No doubt, it’ll be a meaningful occasion for the 6-foot-8 forward, who has made a strong comeback after missing last season with a knee injury and will be playing his 88th game at Mizzou Arena.
Forward Alex Oriakhi, the leading rebounder, and guard Keion Bell, who has been on a scoring tear lately, are essential short-term transfers from Connecticut and Pepperdine.
All three have made their single season under coach Frank Haith count. The coach added that there shouldn’t be a negative connotation, since the transfers will graduate.
“It is a unique situation,” Haith said Monday. “So it’s going to be a little different senior night.”
Especially at home, where the Tigers are 16-0 with 13 of the victories by double digits.
Bowers and Oriakhi had double-doubles in a 13-point victory over LSU on Saturday at home and the senior trio combined for 52 points, 26 rebounds and six assists.
Missouri (21-8, 10-6 SEC) has a pair of victories over Top 25 opponents, is 31-1 at home in Haith’s two seasons, and 83-4 the last five. The Tigers are just 2-7 on the road this season and squandered a four-point lead in the final minute in a two-point loss at Arkansas (18-11, 9-7) last month.
Bowers’ 23-point effort against LSU was his most since also getting 23 against Illinois in December. He’s second on the team with 6.2 rebounds per game and is shooting 54 percent, struggling most at Arkansas when he made just one of 10 shots.
“He’s been terrific,” Haith said. “As good a player as he is, he’s a great kid. He’s an ambassador for this university.”
Though at times prone to foul woes and volatility, including the first Arkansas game where he had 11 rebounds and seven points and played only 19 minutes, Oriakhi has blossomed as the Tigers’ go-to inside threat. Haith has downplayed temper issues, and on Saturday referred to the 6-9, 255-pounds Oriakhi as a “jolly green giant.”
Oriakhi had 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots against LSU and has 10 double-doubles, the most at Missouri since Linas Kleiza had 10 in 2004-05. He’s averaging 10.4 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Haith has encouraged Oriakhi’s offensive potential and says “I want to throw up” whenever Oriakhi says he’s not a scorer.
“I think the biggest thing with Alex,” Haith said, “we want him to be a confident young man.”
Bell was a big scorer at Pepperdine, averaging 16 points in three seasons. He’s found the same niche at Missouri, averaging 17.6 points the last nine games while shooting 60 percent and contributing 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He had a season-best 25 points and eight rebounds in the first Arkansas game.
“I don’t know how many years I’ve been coaching, been around a guy work toward who he wanted to be as well as Keion Bell has, and I mean, how far he’s come,” Haith said. “I think he’s got a chance to be an all-conference guard.”
Anderson won 111 games in five seasons at Missouri, leading the school to NCAA tournament berths the last three seasons, so he claims some credit for the Tigers’ success on and off the court. Point guard Phil Pressey, the preseason SEC player of the year, is the son of Paul Pressey, Anderson’s former college roommate and close friend.
Though Pressey has struggled mightily with late-game management, he’s already topped 200 assists for the second straight season and needs just eight more to break Anthony Peeler’s school career assist record.
Missouri’s average attendance is 11,644, within range of the school-best of 11,830 last season.
“There is some tradition there and we created that atmosphere and that has continued,” Anderson said. “The fans are engaged. But it is more about the players and they go out and they believe that anybody that comes into that arena that they are going to beat them. It is a mindset.”
This will be Anderson’s first trip back to Columbia, Mo., since jumping to Arkansas where he had been a long-time assistant coach under Nolan Richardson.
Anderson said on the Big 12 teleconference Monday that when he arrived at Missouri “there was no passion, at least about basketball anyway.”
“Now, the passion is back and even as I left there, there is passion.”
Haith’s response: “I really want to focus on the game.”
Arkansas sophomore guard BJ Young, who is from St. Louis, is looking forward to the trip. Young converted a pair of three-point plays in the final minute of the first meeting and anticipates he and his coach will get razzed.
“We expect the boos. We know they’re going to boo. We know it’s coming. I’m sure I’ll have some extra boos coming,” Young said. “I’ll be ready for it. I’ll be laughing, laughing it off. I’ll be going out there playing and smiling and having a good time playing back in my home state.”
Arkansas is 17-1 at home, the lone loss to then No. 6 Syracuse on Nov. 30, and 33-4 at home under Anderson. The Razorbacks are coming off a convincing 73-60 victory over Kentucky on Saturday.