COLUMBIA — After Baylor center J'mison Morgan scored early in the game, Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe heard Morgan tell his Bears teammates the Tigers were "soft" and "weak." But it wasn't long before Morgan changed his tune.
"I guess they thought we were soft at first, but once we proved them wrong they just started being on our side and congratulating us," Ratliffe said.
Yes, the Bears had the Big 12’s leading scorer in LaceDarius Dunn, but the Missouri men's basketball team was also focused on Baylor’s long, strong front court in Wednesday's game at Mizzou Arena. But it was two Missouri big men who stole the show in Missouri’s 77-59 win, one with brute strength and the other with fluid-like finesse.
At the start of the game, Baylor’s big three walked onto the floor. Three tall post players to Missouri’s two. If Morgan (6-foot-11-inches), Perry Jones III (6-foot-11-inches) and Anthony Jones (6-foot-10-inches) held hands and stretched out their arms, their collective wingspan would edge past 21 feet.
Ratliffe and Missouri forward Laurence Bowers weren’t surprised. They welcomed the challenge.
The first half belonged to Ratliffe. He scored angrily. Snarls, not smiles, showed on his face after blocked shots. During breaks, he would breath hard, his chest rising and falling while others shot free throws. But, when play resumed, so did the whirlwind of elbows and hip bumps. He played like he had something to prove.
“I know some of those guys are projected to go to the NBA, so I figured I would just rise to the occasion playing against better players, try to step up to their level,” Ratliffe said.
Ratliffe scored Missouri’s first two points of the game and ended the first half with eight of his total 11 points.
It was the kind of game he thrives in. Baylor’s big men closed in on rebounds hard and quick, but Ratliffe would slice in first to steal the Bears’ prize. He had 12 rebounds in the first half and added one more in the second.
In recent games, foul trouble kept Ratliffe on the bench. On Wednesday, he didn’t pick up his first one until eight minutes were left in the second half.
“The three games before the Iowa State game, I had a total of seven rebounds in all three of those games because I wasn’t really playing. I was in a lot of foul trouble," Ratliffe said. “I have been trying to stay out on the floor, play smarter and not foul.”
Missouri walked into halftime with a 33-20 lead, the second fewest points Baylor has scored in a first half all season. To start the second half, Bowers took over where Ratliffe left off.
Ratliffe was strong; Bowers was smooth.
“They do a great job complementing each other,” said Missouri junior guard Kim English, who was 4-for-6 on 3-pointers and scored 16 points. "Ricardo being the inside presence that he is and Laurence being that inside-outside threat, more finesse.”
Bowers scored 10 points in the first six minutes of the second half and ended with a team-high 20 points.
Bowers picked up two early fouls in the first half and spent much of it on the bench. He had only two points at halftime.
In the second half, his shots were silky, and his six steals set fast breaks in motion.
“I think that's what lit my fire was not actually being out there. You know, you want to help your team out so bad,” Bowers said. “I just wanted to respond in the second half, and I ended up playing pretty well.”
In the end, Bowers said it boiled down to desire.
“I think we wanted it a little bit more than they did,” he said. “And it paid off.”