ST. LOUIS — For some college basketball players, coming back home brings out the best performances. For Missouri’s Matt Lawrence, it’s brought out some of the worst.
The St. Louis native struggled for the fourth straight year in Tuesday night’s Braggin’ Rights Game against Illinois at the Scottrade Center, scoring just four points on 2-of-6 shooting. During his career, Lawrence has averaged just over four points per game in the annual matchup against the Illini, and the Tigers were on the losing end in all four games. He has been a starter the past three years, and he scored no points in 12 minutes off the bench during Illinois’ 82-50 rout in 2005.
On Monday, Lawrence said for him personally, coming back home was the best part of the heavily anticipated matchup. But the senior struggled in 15 minutes of play in the first half and made two jump shots during just eight minutes of playing time after halftime.
“Sometimes guys want to do something so bad, it just doesn’t happen,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said after the game.
Lawrence said last year he came out with too much energy and picked up two quick fouls on his way to five points in 15 minutes of playing time. The senior said he was approaching the game differently this season, even though he still realized the importance of the game for the Tigers and knew he would be playing in front of more friends and family.
“I’m not going to try to think about that at all this year,” Lawrence said. “I’m going to try to look at it, like coach said, as just another game.”
It’s not as if Lawrence hasn’t played well in big games before. As a sophomore, he scored 19 points at Allen Fieldhouse when the Tigers fell three points short of an upset against Kansas, who was ranked No. 5 in the country at the time. But Tuesday night, the sharpshooter, who teammates have called one of the best three-point shooters in the country, missed all four attempts from beyond the arc and often looked lost on the defensive end of the floor.
He had been playing especially well lately, averaging more than 11 points in his past four games. But outside of a great assist to Leo Lyons in the first half and a difficult offbalance 19-footer, Lawrence was basically not a factor for the Tigers against Illinois on Tuesday night.
Lawrence has always struggled with his consistency, and it’s been the same story again this season. He has been in double figures five different times, but he has been held to four or less on three occasions. That includes the win against Southern California, where he missed the only two shots he took and played just 11 minutes.
The 6-foot-7 former walk-on who is tied for sixth on Missouri’s all-time three-point list with 183 won’t get another chance to redeem himself in the Braggin’ Rights game. But he will have a chance to atone for his often disappointing play against Big 12 Conference opponents last season, when he shot 31 percent from three-point range and scored 7.4 points per game.