COLUMBIA— Laurence Bowers immediately stepped in the way.
Whistles were blowing, fists were flying, the crowd was screaming and players were glaring.
His teammate, Alex Oriakhi, tripped Mississippi forward Reginald Buckner, who then stood and swung in Oriakhi’s direction.
Missouri head coach Frank Haith sprinted onto the court, suit jacket off. Oriakhi and Phil Pressey walked toward the bench, smiling, and Bowers, the senior captain, stood in the middle of the melee with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.
While the referees looked at the replay to assess the penalties, Bowers walked over to Oriakhi and gave him a hug.
“I got your back, baby,” he said.
Buckner was ejected, and Bowers received a technical, but it played no role in the score of a physical game. Saturday, the Missouri Tigers (17-6, 6-4 in the Southeastern Conference) easily won against Ole Miss 98-79, with everyone on the team contributing and supporting one another.
“These guys are like my brothers,” Oriakhi said after the game. “So, when your brother has your back like that, it means a lot.”
When the Tigers and Rebels met in Oxford, Miss., last month, Missouri was upset 64-49. Oriakhi had only four points and six rebounds in the loss, and Mississippi forward Murphy Holloway dominated the game with 22 points and eight rebounds. The Tigers had 19 turnovers in the game, led by Pressey’s five, and were outrebounded for the first time 33-31.
Saturday, it was the opposite.
Oriakhi paired a career high 22 points with 18 rebounds (10 offensive), three blocks and two steals. He, along with Bowers and Tony Criswell, guarded Holloway as well as they could, limiting him to only seven points and one rebound.
Pressey added 22 points, four assists, and most importantly, had only one turnover in the game (Missouri had nine). With his assist in the second quarter, Pressey broke the all-time assists record at Missouri, a record that had been held by Anthony Peeler with 497.
Pressey now has 499 and counting.
The Tigers outrebounded the Rebels 48 to 24 and shot 47.3 percent in the game. Keion Bell scored 21 points, shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc, Jabari Brown added 14, and Earnest Ross paired 10 points with seven rebounds from the bench.
The win pushed Missouri’s record to a perfect 14-0 at home this season.
Next week, the Tigers will once again try to replicate their home success away from Mizzou Arena, playing at Mississippi State on Wednesday and at Arkansas next Saturday.
If Oriakhi continues to play like he did Saturday — emotionally, physically and productively, Missouri could very well get its first road win in the SEC.
"As long as he channels it like tonight, and gets 18 boards and 22 points, I don’t think I’ll be unhappy with that," Haith said. "I just don’t want him doing anything crazy to hurt our team.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.