BUFFALO, N.Y. - Laurence Bowers knew he should’ve dunked the ball.
When he walked into the locker room after the Missouri men’s basketball team beat Clemson 86-78 Friday in Buffalo, N.Y., he was immediately ridiculed.
“Who blew it? Who blew it,” his teammates chanted in a joking manner.
With 48 seconds left Bowers caught the ball near the basket with the chance to seal the victory against Clemson. Rather than dunking the ball like he had done the majority of the game, Bowers went for the layup. The result was an embarrassing miss that he knew he wouldn’t live down.
“(I thought) Oh my God,” Bowers said. “And my teammates started chanting ‘He blew it.’”
Though the team may remind him of his missed layup, it was Bowers’ fast break dunks that helped to give Missouri momentum throughout the game. More than half of his made baskets were dunks.
“Of course the dunks are big momentum builders. They boost your momentum sky-high,” Bowers said. “So once I did that (dunk) I knew ‘Oh yeah, it is game time,’” Bowers said.
The dunks were key in motivating Missouri. With more than five minutes left Bowers finished a two-handed alley-oop from Tiller. The Missouri crowd erupted in cheers and the bench players even stood up, waving towels in excitement. Clemson immediately called a time-out, but the damage was done. The dunk put Missouri ahead by eight, and Clemson was unable to get much closer.
“I think after the alley-oop that J.T. (Tiller) connected me on, we took off from there,” Bowers said. “From that point we knew that they were tired and about to give us the game.”
Bowers said he knew from the start of the game that he would have an opportunity to have a lot of dunks. The Clemson press often leaves the forwards open down the court, giving Bowers plenty of time to catch the pass and surprise the crowd.
“I wasn’t hiding out because I wanted to dunk,” Bowers said. “It was just the open spot and I knew that once they broke the press, I’d be open.”
Even with two torn ligaments in his left wrist, Bowers was able to easily make catches in transition. His hands seemed like they were covered with glue as he twisted and turned to catch the full-court passes. Once catching the ball, Bowers rises so far above the rim that his wrist often gets cuts on it. After Friday’s game, his wrist was covered with little red scratches.
“He’s got good hands and he’s basically playing with one hand and able to catch the basketball and got a couple dunks in transition” Missouri assistant coach Matt Zimmerman said. “That’s Laurence Bowers. That’s what he does best.”
Though a dunk often motivates the team and excites the crowd, the true impact comes on the play after the dunk. Missouri was in its full-court press after each fast break slam. At one point Clemson had trouble in-bounding the ball and turned it over after one of Bowers’ rim-shaking dunks. Zimmerman said the dunks were crucial in forcing Clemson into 20 turnovers. Missouri will need his ability in the open court when it plays West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday.
“People can get a little rattled after giving up a dunk,” Zimmerman said. “We love to press really hard after we dunk the basketball.”
Though Bowers’ ability to dunk often leads to television highlights, Taylor doesn't find it impressive at all. Instead he just shook his head, smiled and accused him of cheating.
“He’s 6-9 and he’s got a 7-6 wingspan so it is an optical illusion that he’s jumping high,” Taylor said. “But he can dunk a little bit.”