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Columbia Missourian

Missouri men's basketball team defeats Auburn after coming back from team injuries

By Justin Yang
February 2, 2013 | 4:28 p.m. CST
The Missouri Tigers defeated Auburn 91-77 Saturday at Mizzou Arena. The win elevates No. 17 Missouri to a 16-5, 5-3 record.

COLUMBIA — There were plenty of smiles on the Missouri players' faces during Missouri's 91-77 win over Auburn.

Whether it was celebrating one of guard Keion Bell's numerous athletic layups or forward Alex Oriakhi's 1,000th career point, the Missouri players had many reasons to be happy.

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Missouri coach Frank Haith did not even have to strip off his coat jacket or his tie out of frustration during the game.

It was also the first time in a long time all of Missouri's key players were ready to play — something that has not happened since the Illinois game Dec. 22.

Forward Tony Criswell was the first to go down with a finger injury in that game. Then it was forward Laurence Bowers who went out with a sprained right knee Jan. 8. Then it was Keion Bell with an ankle injury against Florida and a shoulder injury before the LSU game.

Saturday, Point guard Phil Pressey, guards Keion Bell and Jabari Brown and Forwards Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi's names blared through the speakers as the announcer read the starting lineup.

"That's a blessing," Haith said about having his players back.

With Bowers out for most of January and Bell in and out of the lineup with various minor injuries, Missouri went 5-3 in the month. Its three losses came on the road.

Missouri began February differently, looking fluid in its play, much more cohesive and aggressive than in the 73-70 loss against LSU.

Bell, who decided he felt well enough to play Saturday, was doing what he does best — scoring off acrobatic layups and high-flying transition dunks. Bell had 24 points.

Bell's defensive abilities also shined. He had three steals.

"I think he's now understanding where his opportunities come when he's playing with other guys that are really good players," Haith said. "It starts with him focusing on what he needs to do on the defensive end."

Bowers continued to progress in his return from injury, scoring 12 points.

Criswell tweaked his wrist in the second half, threatening to make Missouri's recovery from team injury problems short-lived, but he returned to the game shortly after.

The joy of victory and health could be seen on-court and in the post-game press conference. Haith was smiling. Oriakhi and guard Earnest Ross were laughing as they left the conference room, going down the hall to the locker room.

It was different for the dejected Auburn team.

"Whenever they (Missouri) were around the rim, people were coming in too late and giving them weak fouls, allowing them to finish and make one-and-ones," Auburn center Rob Chubb said. "Which is a recipe for disaster."

The win elevates No. 17 Missouri to a 16-5, 5-3 record. Missouri is undefeated at home but still has not won a road game. Missouri travels to Texas A&M Thursday in search of its first road win in the Southeastern Conference.