Offense slumping in Bowers' absence
Anyone needing a reminder of Laurence Bowers' impact on the Missouri Tigers offense received a rude and unwanted refresher Saturday in a 64-49 loss at Ole Miss.
With Bowers on the bench after spraining the MCL in his right knee last week vs. Alabama, the Tigers' offense was downright awful. Mizzou committed 19 turnovers, shot just 37 percent from the field and went just 2-for-18 from the three-point line.
The 49-point effort was their lowest scoring total of the season and the first in which they didn't reach at least 61 points. Not having Bowers was a big reason why.
"We didn't look like ourselves" Mizzou coach Frank Haith said this week. "I thought where we really struggled was on the offensive end. You can look at our team and other than the first couple games when Laurence struggled scoring early in games, he became our guy in the first half and I think that showed what we missed the most.
"He was our go to guy to start ballgames and how we get ourselves going, running offense through him. I think you saw a lot of our guys wanting to do that as opposed to executing and running good offense. I thought we shot the ball quickly and we missed a lot of layups and weren't as aggressive attacking the basket as we needed to be."
A torn ACL in his left knee cost Bowers all of last season but he's returned and looked mighty impressive this year. The senior leads the Tigers with 16.8 points per game on a ridiculous 58 percent shooting from the field. He's also second on the team with 6.9 rebounds per game.
Bowers has been instant offense for the Tigers from nearly anywhere on the court, hitting 13-of-25 attempts from the three-point line. Without him in the lineup Saturday, the Tigers looked and confused and passive. They jacked up shots without running their offense and never found a sync to their offense.
The fifth-year senior gives the Tigers more than just a primary scoring threat on the floor. He also provides invaluable experience and leadership, an important factor for a team full of transfers and freshman. Bowers and point guard Phil Pressey are the only two players to play a full season in a Tigers uniform. And with Bowers out, the already overworked Pressey is forced to shoulder an even bigger load.
Bowers' absence has also put more pressure on senior transfer Alex Oriakhi to produce on the offensive end. The former National Championship winner while at UConn, Oriakhi has averaged 10.2 points per game and a team-high 8.7 rebounds per game this season.
In Mizzou's first game without the 6-foot-9 Bowers down on the block, Oriakhi had just four points and six rebounds in 23 minutes in Saturday's loss. The Tigers hope that changes when they host Georgia on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena.
"He's got to be that guy," Haith said. "Without Laurence, he has to be the guy that we get more production out of on a consistent basis, particularly in the paint. We're really going to work on that here the next couple days."
The Tigers could use Bowers later this week when they travel to play at No. 10 Florida on Saturday but his availability remains in question. Asked about his status earlier this week, Haith said, "We're going to be patient with Laurence. He'll be re-evaluated again after the Georgia game and we'll see how he's progressing.
"I'll say this again. I can assure you he won't get rushed back onto the basketball court. With what this man has gone though, missing a season with the ACL injury, I think we're very fortunate it's a sprain, an MCL, but we're not going to put him back on the court if he's not ready 100 percent to give us something."
Mizzou should be able to get past an undermanned Georgia team (6-9,0-2 SEC) without Bowers but could be in trouble if he remains out an extended period of time. With Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliff gone to graduation and Michael Dixon gone to a suspension and subsequent transfer, the Tigers are searching for veteran leadership to help stabilize their lineup.
For the time being, they'll have to find a way to win without Bowers.