Guard play sends Missouri men's basketball team past Old Dominion

Thursday, December 30, 2010 | 11:24 p.m. CST; updated 12:07 p.m. CST, Friday, December 31, 2010
Missouri junior guard Matt Pressey drives against Old Dominion guard Darius James in the Tigers' victory on Thursday at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — Old Dominon’s size advantage was obvious on paper, but it didn’t materialize until the Monarchs took the court and 6-foot-9 Frank Hassel and all of his 255 pounds walked into the tip-off circle like a heavyweight fighter stepping to the center of the ring.

The game itself would contain a hint of the physicality seen in a boxing match, but a trio of Missouri’s smaller players combined to knock out the heavyweights.

“They’ve got a number of guys that can come in and shoot shots. It’s not like you have one guy to guard,” Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor said.

On a night where forwards Justin Safford and Laurence Bowers were held to a combined five points, three of Missouri’s guards combined for 55 points and nearly half of the team’s rebounds as Missouri beat Old Dominion 81-55 on Thursday at Mizzou Arena.

Matt Pressey repeatedly navigated through thickets of defenders, penetrating to score layups. Marcus Denmon repeatedly lofted perfectly arched 3-pointers. Then, Michael Dixon came in and did both.

As the last of the fans trickled into the stadium to find and settle into their seats, the two teams were also still getting comfortable. Old Dominion was bigger, and they wanted to play slow. No. 10 Missouri prefers to run. Whistles favored the Monarchs, fouls allowing the game to be slowed down to Old Dominion’s pace.

With less than 10 minutes to play in the first half, the score was knotted at 17.

Pressey pulled up for a jumper just past the free-throw line, making the shot to give the Tigers a two-point lead. The choice not to drive the ball was rare for Pressey. His ability to dribble around and sometimes through defenders had already led to seven points. But, the jump shot was on target.

Old Dominion trailed the rest of the evening, and over time the Monarchs began to cool. Missouri’s three guards, however, were just warming up.

“Early on in the game I tried to really assert myself,” Pressey said, "attacking and things like that. That’s basically what it came down to. I found my reads and gaps."

Matt Pressey started at point guard for Missouri for the third consecutive game. He has stepped into the role since his younger brother, Phil Pressey, broke a bone in his hand. Dixon continues to come off the bench for the Tigers after his two-game suspension for violating a team rule ended.

As Matt Pressey sliced through the lanes, he drew the attention of defenders, leading Denmon to find more open shots.

“When I chip in with my drives and my few points, teams can’t lock on Marcus even though he’s our premier, leading scorer,” Matt Pressey said.

Denmon had made 36 3-pointers coming into Thursday’s game, and added five more against Old Dominion.

“Every time I pass Marcus the ball, I think he’s gonna make a three,” Dixon said.

Dixon’s first points did not come until 1:44 left in the first half, but after that the points flowed freely as the guard earned his career high. He was fouled on a 3-pointer attempt and made all three shots, then made two more 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions before halftime.

Points continued to flow for the guard in the second half. He scored another 3-pointer, and a mix of lofty running shots also found the net. Dixon scored a career high despite coming off the bench.

“That’s just coach’s decision. I feel like I can come in and contribute at any point in time during the game,” Dixon said.

When the three guards were not scoring, they were battling bigger Old Dominion players for rebounds. Throughout the week, Missouri coach Mike Anderson stressed the importance of the guards blocking out bigger players to get the ball off the glass.

Even Old Dominion's coach noticed.

“When your opponent knows you're good at something, that’s going to be the thing they work on,” Taylor said.

The extra practice worked. Missouri had only one less rebound than the Monarchs (33), and even had one more than Old Dominon on the offensive end (10) despite the obvious size disparity.

 “Our guys are versatile. They can get in there and bang or they can use their speed and quickness. We have guys with size that know how to use it," Denmon said.

Against a bigger team, Missouri showed it could be a contender.

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