Criswell's gritty play lifts Missouri men's basketball team

Friday, January 18, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Missouri forward Tony Criswell, right, fights for a rebound against Mississippi guard Jarvis Summers.

COLUMBIA — The small black cast Missouri forward Tony Criswell wears on his left hand during basketball games does not bother him.

The splint that Criswell has to wear off the court does bother him — it does not allow him to break his falls.

He fell out of his bed without a way to brace his impact recently. The worst was the time he slipped on the ice and hit his head on his car.

"Too funny," Criswell said laughing over the phone.

His teammates should be happy he came out unscratched from the incident.

Criswell fractured his middle finger on his left hand Dec. 22 in the Tigers' game against Illinois. He returned just in time for Missouri, which was shorthanded after Laurence Bowers sprained his right knee against Alabama on Jan. 8.

At Ole Miss on Jan. 12, the Tigers struggled with their readjusted lineup and lost 64-49, with Criswell fouling out after contributing six points and two rebounds. But against Georgia on Wednesday night, Criswell earned coach Frank Haith's praise after a 10-point, six-rebound performance in a 79-62 victory.

"Tony has an ability to score," Haith said Thursday afternoon in a teleconference. "But he's willing to do the dirty work."

Criswell went up for rebounds, dived for every loose ball he could and took charges against Georgia. Criswell said the last thing he does during his daring plays is think about his hand. Only afterward, when he has the time to reflect, does he worry about it.

"I try to lay it out all the time on defense," Criswell said. "If it (a charge) is available, I'm going to take the charge, hard or not."

It is Criswell's brand of basketball — constantly moving, never holding back.

"Coming up, they used to put in my head, 'everybody wants to have a guy with good energy,'" Criswell said. "They always said I could control the game without scoring."

Haith said Criswell's style of play can be crucial to a team's success.

"It's something that spreads out and motivates your team," Haith said. "Those are plays that are, when they happen, they are momentum changers. When he takes a charge or dives on the floor for a loose ball or grabs an offensive rebound they change momentum and lift the team up."

It's the type of play Missouri will need against No. 10 Florida's high-scoring offense Saturday afternoon in Gainesville, Fla.

Florida knows how to score. Four of the team's players average in double digits.

Guard Kenny Boynton leads the team with 13.8 points per game, and guard Mike Rosario scores 12.3 points per game. Forward Erik Murphy averages 12 points and Center Patrik Young averages 11.

"When you play a team like that, your defense has to be so solid," Haith said. "We really have to be so precise in how we're defending their actions, and we have to be consistent, too."

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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