Height difference made no difference in Missouri men's basketball win

Monday, November 14, 2011 | 10:51 p.m. CST; updated 9:57 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Missouri men's basketball team looked small in its 81-63 victory against Mercer on Monday night.

When the two teams came onto the court at Mizzou Arena, Mercer (0-2) sent out a taller player at all five positions.

Playing without injured forward Laurence Bowers, Missouri's starting lineup included four guards and one forward. Mercer's, meanwhile, included four forwards and one guard.

Missouri's shortest player, 5-foot-10-inch point guard Phil Pressey, was covering Mercer point guard Langston Hall, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall. The Tigers' tallest player, 6-foot-8-inch Ricardo Ratliffe, was covering the 6-foot-11-inch Daniel Coursey. 

Mercer won the opening tip-off and immediately got a basket in the paint from forward Justin Cecil, a junior college teammate of Ratliffe. But that was the last time Mercer looked like the dominant team on the floor.

The Tigers (2-0) lacked size, but they made up for it with speed. Missouri forced 20 turnovers and stole the ball 14 times.

Halfway through the first half, Phil Pressey used his quickness to knock away the ball from a Mercer guard and dove head-first across the halfcourt line to grab it. Lying on the ground with the ball, he flipped it to his brother, Matt Pressey, who set the crowd into a frenzy with a one-handed dunk to put Missouri up 22-10. 

Phil Pressey had five steals and led the team with 22 points.

"Me and Phil love to get out and pressure people on the defensive end," junior guard Michael Dixon said. "That's one of our trademarks, and that's what we pride ourselves on."

The size difference between the two teams was noticeable to those in attendance, but did not show up on the stat sheet.

Missouri had four more rebounds than Mercer and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds. All eight Tigers who played contributed at least three rebounds. Ratliffe led the team with seven.

One player Missouri is hoping will provide an improved rebounding presence is 6-foot-6-inch senior Kim English, who is the second tallest player in the Bowers-less starting lineup.

English had three rebounds against Mercer, but Dixon and Missouri coach Frank Haith both praised him for battling for the rebounds.

"Rebounding is not just about how tall you are," Haith said. "If Kim can keep his guy off the board by blocking him out and that ball gets tipped around, our guards are quick enough to go get the ball."

With Bowers out for the rest of the season, Missouri will continue to rely on speed and athleticism to compensate for height.

"Pressure bursts pipes," Dixon said, causing English to roll his eyes.

The victory gives Missouri a 1-0 record in the 2011 CBE Classic, which continues at 7 p.m. Thursday against Niagara at Mizzou Arena. The CBE Classic concludes with two games at the Sprint Center next week in Kansas City.

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