COLUMBIA — It might finally be time to welcome back Keon Lawrence from his shooting slump.
The guard came off the bench to score a team-high 18 points against Texas on Saturday at Mizzou Arena, five days after an 11-point performance in a home win over UMKC.
“Mmm hmm,” Lawrence said after the game. “I felt real good.”
The guard has been in what he called the worst slump of his life for the past month. In a six-game span from Dec. 8 until Dec. 30, Lawrence shot a measly .297 percent from the field and averaged just seven points per game. Not to mention that he had been demoted from the starting lineup just before the slump began.
“I think Keon, he kind of beats himself up a little bit,” coach Mike Anderson said. “He wants to so bad. Like all the young players do. They’ve got all the answers. They can do this and do that. But it’s a progression, and I think he is learning about big-time Big 12 basketball.”
He looked well educated in Missouri’s Big 12 Conference opener on Saturday. Against Texas, Lawrence was 5-for-6 shooting in the first half, including 3-for-3 from the perimeter.
“I hadn’t been hitting any shots,” Lawrence said. “So I guess they were like, ‘Well, we’re just going to see if he can make some.’”
The Tigers came out strong in the second half, leaving Lawrence on the bench for nearly eight minutes, but he added three more points, all on free throws, in the second half.
With his best friend and teammate Zaire Taylor calming him down on the bench, Lawrence played with more confidence on Saturday.
“I just went out there and was taking the shots they gave me,” Lawrence said. “Knowing that I could knock it down with confidence, and that’s what happened.”
The charismatic guard from Newark, N.J., entered the season with high expectations, but the shooting slump made for a tough first half of the season for Lawrence.
The low point came on Dec. 22 when, down by one and with time running out, Lawrence mishandled the basketball and it rolled out of bounds, sealing a 59-58 victory for Illinois, its eighth straight against Missouri.
The normally buoyant Lawrence, who was always one of the first players out of the locker room ready to talk after a game, was now much more sullen with the media, breaking down games with a sad, frustrated tone in his voice.
“I always put a lot of pressure on myself and coach tells me I shouldn’t do that,” Lawrence said. “I try not to put pressure on myself, but I always do. I can’t help it.”
Lawrence flirted with the idea of transferring in the midst of his slump, but after scoring a season-high in the win over Texas, he was back to his old self, giving colorful answers to every question with his trademark grin and happy-go-lucky demeanor.
So the big question: Keon, are you officially out of your slump now?
“I don’t know man,” he answered with an optimistic smirk. “Hopefully.”