COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Alex Oriakhi showed off his offensive prowess on Friday night.
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward had 17 points and 10 rebounds in No. 14 Missouri’s 74-54 win over Nicholls State.
Oriakhi’s effort was his second double-double of the season, matching his total of last season at Connecticut.
“Usually, guys, they think they’re better than what they are, he’s one of those guys that’s the other way,” coach Frank Haith said.
Oriakhi did most of his damage at the free throw line after getting fouled several times during second-chance opportunities thanks to seven offensive rebounds, going 9 of 10. He also became the first Missouri player to pull down 10 or more rebounds in his first three games since Malcolm Thomas in 1983-84.
Oriakhi continued his struggles from the field, shooting 4 of 10. He says he’s rushing when he gets excited for close-range shots, but also thankful for Haith telling him he’ll continue to receive the ball.
“I think Coach Haith and this coaching staff are just doing a great job of giving me confidence,” Oriakhi said. “The most important thing, he’s let me play through my mistakes. That’s something I wasn’t able to do last year.”
The Tigers (3-0) ended their tendency to start slowly — at least for one game — after senior forward Laurence Bowers promised to fix the team’s problems after Missouri shot 23 percent in the first half Tuesday night against Alcorn State.
Missouri used a 7-0 run within the first four minutes and wouldn’t relinquish the lead after that.
Despite the quicker start, Haith said his team wasn’t going “to hit a home run in the first five minutes of the game” against Nicholls State (0-2).
“I thought we did come out with a better focus tonight in terms of our energy,” Haith said.
Fred Hunter scored 22 points and T.J. Carpenter added 14 for Nicholls State, which has dropped both its games this season to Southeastern Conference teams. The Colonels lost to Vanderbilt on Saturday in their opener.
The Colonels return four starters from last season’s 10-20 team, but Hunter didn’t play as he recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds against Vanderbilt.
“I’m better than before the injury because I learned a lot sitting out,” Hunter said. “You can always get better.”
Missouri jumped out to its largest lead of the game at 54-32 on Phil Pressey’s 3-pointer with 13:46 remaining. The Tigers used an 11-1 run over a 3-minute stretch near the end of the first half that made the score 25-14, but a 9-2 Colonels run followed to narrow the gap.
Missouri led 32-25 at the break.
“For us, I feel like we competed, we kept them on their toes, we made them nervous maybe for the first half,” Nicholls State coach J.P. Piper said.
Nicholls State took advantage of eight Missouri turnovers in the first half, scoring nine points off the miscues. But the Colonels turned it over 10 times in the second, and Missouri converted the mistakes into 17 points.
Earnest Ross added 16 points and Keion Bell added a season-high 13 for the Tigers, who travel to the Bahamas to face Stanford on Thanksgiving in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
Haith said his team needs to focus on taking charges and blocking out, but was more optimistic than after Tuesday’s game when he said the team wouldn’t be as good as it would be in January.
“We’re really close to really getting to the level I think we need to be at,” Haith said. “So I’m excited about where this team is headed.”