People may look at Saturday’s 66-64 home win over the Patriot League’s Bucknell Bison and think that Missouri had an off night against an inferior opponent. And it’s true the Tigers certainly weren’t at the top of their game shooting just 34% in the first half and holding a very narrow 38-35 rebounding edge for the game.
However, Bucknell is a quality opponent that would likely feast on the bottom and middle sections of most of the larger conferences this season and that shouldn’t be dismissed from the equation. They’re currently 28th in the RPI and have a star quality big man in Mike Muscala. Off night or not, it’s telling that only Louisville has held Missouri to fewer than 66 points in a game and the Bison did an excellent job in other aspects of the game as well.
Aside from a brief moment when the Bison had a five point lead in the first half, it was a single possession game from start to finish. Bucknell had the ball down by one with less than ten seconds to go but a Muscala turnover led to a foul and two made free throws for Missouri’s Earnest Ross. Those free throws effectively ended the upset bid for the Bison.
Missouri was paced by the usual suspects. Phil Pressey scored a season high 26 and accounted for five of the team’s eight assists in the game. Laurence Bowers added 16 points on 8-14 shooting and led the team in rebounds with eight. In just 24 minutes of action Alex Oriakhi finished the game with seven rebounds and nine points and provided his typically steady presence. Jabari Brown had the worst game of his brief career with Mizzou managing just three points on 1-9 from the floor, but he did contribute with five assists and two steals.
Muscala may have committed the critical turnover at the end of the game but without him Bucknell likely would have been blown out of the water. Already averaging a double-double coming into the game, he scored 25 points on 10-17 from the floor and added a game-high 14 rebounds. He also added four assists and two blocks and did it all while staying out of foul trouble. Backing Muscala were Bryson Johnson and Cameron Ayers who also scored in double digits (eleven and 13 points) while providing nearly all of the team’s perimeter shooting. They combined to go 6-15 from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Ryan Frazier was the only other Bison to even attempt a three pointer, and to his credit, he made it. Ayers also added seven rebounds to his stat line in the game.
Bucknell (13-3) will host the Army Black Knights (7-7) on Saturday. The game is the conference opener for both schools and should be a relatively easy game for the Bison as they look to shake off their loss at Mizzou Arena.
Now up to #10 in the AP Top-25, and the top ranked team in the SEC, Missouri (11-2) will kick off conference play at home against Alabama (8-5) on Tuesday. The Crimson Tide have wins over Texas Tech and Oregon State by a total of seven points but their most decisive against a “major” college opponent is a 22 point victory over Villanova on a neutral site. Their five losses have come against Tulane, Mercer, Dayton, VCU and Cincinnati. Their strength of schedule is currently 23rd in the nation and their RPI is 71st. Junior Trevor Releford (Travis’ younger brother) leads ‘Bama in scoring with an average of 15.6 points per game. Trevor Lacey and Rodney Cooper average 12.5 and 12.3 ppg respectively while Cooper also leads the team in rebounds (4.5 rpg). Speaking of the glass, that’s just one of the areas the Tigers should have a decided advantage. Missouri is the top rebounding team in the country (46.7 rpg) and Alabama is 260th (33.0 rpg).