COLUMBIA — Laurence Bowers wasn’t ready for Miguel Paul to pass him the ball. Bowers was running the baseline, headed toward the basket, when Paul fired the pass.
Bowers smoothly reached behind his body with his right hand and quickly shoved the ball back to Paul, bailing his teammate out of a turnover.
A minute or so earlier, Bowers intercepted a pass and chucked it nearly the full length of the court right to an open teammate, whom Bowers spotted in a split second.
If it’s not clear already, Bowers doesn’t need much notice.
It was hard not to notice Missouri’s gangling 6-foot-8-inch, 205-pound forward during the Tigers’ season-opening 83-68 win against Tennessee-Martin on Tuesday night in front of 6,986 at Mizzou Arena. Bowers’ stat line alone shows how versatile a player he has become: 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists, 2 steals.
But his personal statistics don’t do his performance justice. Every chance Bowers got, he was making things easier for his teammates.
The sophomore routinely lobbed the ball into big men Keith Ramsey and Steve Moore, putting them in prime position for easy layups. The passes were so perfect, they could have come from a point guard.
On one occasion, Bowers hit Ramsey in stride with a quick bounce pass as Ramsey slashed to the basket. The result: another easy layup.
“He’s a good passer. He’s just like a combo-type player,” Moore said. “He can put the ball on the floor. He can pass it. He’s got vision.”
He can shoot it, too. Bowers said he worked on his jump shot in the offseason, and he showed it Tuesday.
Right after Tennessee-Martin went into a 2-3 zone five minutes into the first half, Bowers settled into the middle of the zone and knocked in a jump shot from just beyond the free-throw line, helping to loosen the Skyhawks' zone.
Last year, Bowers was known mainly for his highlight-reel dunks, especially the one that Sportscenter awarded with its No.1 Play of the Night. But after just one game this season, Bowers has shown he’s the team’s most versatile player.
“I came into this year wanting to be an all-around guy,” Bowers said. “I didn’t want to just make my game off offense or highlight plays. I try to get a few blocks here and there, steals, just try to be all-around. When I do get a chance to have a highlight, I’m going to try it. I’m going to perform it.”
He did that Tuesday night, too. Thirty seconds after Miguel Paul’s alley-oop pass directed toward Bowers clanked off the rim, Paul and Bowers tried again. This time, Bowers jumped, turned in mid-air and threw down his signature backward dunk, drawing the loudest roar of the night from the crowd.
“He’s a highlight waiting to happen, but I think he’s doing more things now,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said.
After Michael Dixon Jr. shot an airball, Bowers swooped in from the baseline, grabbed the missed shot and kicked it back out to a teammate for an open look.
“He has tremendous instincts for the game,” Anderson said. “You just watch him, he’s really smooth. It seems like he’s in the right place at the right time. You watch him run you go like, ‘How does he do that?’ That’s something you can’t teach.”
Another time, Bowers used his long arms to tip in a missed 3-pointer.
“It’s amazing. In the tips that he’s tipping in, I mean he’s actually controlling those tips and they’re going in,” Anderson said. “He’s got that quick-jump. He may go up twice while another guy may go once.”
Bowers came off the bench Tuesday, but he played more minutes than starters Keith Ramsey and Justin Safford. With Missouri struggling to pull away after five minutes of the second half, Bowers popped off the bench again. Less than three minutes later, he threw down his crowd-rattling dunk, giving the Tigers another burst of energy.
Bowers played a near mistake-free game Tuesday. He missed just two shots, one of which came as the clock wound down at the end of the first half. Moore rebounded the miss quickly and put it in the basket as the clock expired. This time, someone else bailed out Bowers.
For all the help he provided, Bowers – always selfless – deserved it.
“It’s nothing special,” Bowers said of his ability to bail out teammates. “I think I’ve got a pretty good knack for the ball. I don’t want my teammate to commit the turnover, so I’m going to do whatever I can to prevent that, even if it’s a bad pass. I don’t know, I just come up with it somehow.”