COLUMBIA— Laurence Bowers received a text message Saturday before the game. It was from head coach Frank Haith.
"Play free," it read.
That's what Bowers did in the Missouri men's basketball team's 89-76 victory over LSU on Saturday at Mizzou Arena. He looked more comfortable than he ever has since returning from a right knee injury Jan. 30 against LSU.
In Saturday's rematch, Bowers racked up 23 points with smooth shooting from in and around the lane. His play was crucial to keeping Missouri on track against LSU, which had won 73-70 in the first meeting and jumped to early 13-point lead in Saturday's game.
After LSU guards Anthony Hickey and Charles Carmouche took advantage of Missouri's sluggish defense with a barrage of 3-pointers early in the first half, Bowers became a factor. He used open jumpers, turnaround jumpers in the post and physical layups filled with contact to help bring back Missouri, which led 43-39 at halftime.
Bowers was playing free, just like his coach asked him to a few hours earlier.
"I just got lost in the game," Bowers said. "I just have to continue to keep that approach throughout the rest of the season."
When Missouri forward Alex Oriakhi missed a shot with 3:11 to go, Bowers made sure the ball went into the basket with a putback dunk, putting Missouri ahead 38-33.
"Every time he (Bowers) had it in the post, I just told him to go to work," Oriakhi said. "Laurence is a great player, not a lot of people can guard him."
Even when Bowers was on the bench, he found a way to contribute.
"C'mon," an energetic Bowers shouted as he turned around to the Missouri fans, waving his arms to get them to cheer after guard Negus Webster-Chan hit a second-half 3-pointer.
The crowd cheered with him.
Bowers' performance, which included 10 rebounds and two assists, was his best since scoring 23 points Dec. 22 against Illinois.
Haith said it has taken some time to get Bowers back into rhythm. With Oriakhi's improvement on offense during Bowers' absence, Bowers has had to make some tweaks to his game.
"With Laurence and Alex playing together, we do have a chance to have a really good front line," Haith said. "Now L-Bo (Bowers) has to get back in there to find his niche to get both those guys playing at a high level. That takes time."
Having the two big-men mesh is important for Missouri as it looks towards tournament play in a few weeks. Missouri plays Arkansas Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena, and finishes its season March 9 against Tennessee.