Bryant makes big plays to complete comeback

Wednesday, December 3, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 28, 2008

It’s not easy to miss Missouri power forward Travon Bryant. With a 6-foot-9, 240-pound physique, Bryant has few places he can hide.

With acclaimed teammates such as Rickey Paulding, a preseason All-American, and Arthur Johnson, coaches’ preseason pick for Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, Bryant is sometimes overlooked.

There was no neglecting Bryant in Missouri’s 70-61 win against Coppin State on Tuesday night.

Bryant led Missouri’s offense with 16 points and two assists. He also had six rebounds and three blocks in 21 minutes.

When the Eagles hit three straight 3-point shots for a 32-28 lead going into halftime, Bryant and the Tigers made changes.

Paulding was struggling with turnovers, and Johnson wasn’t getting enough open looks at the basket.

“We didn’t do a good job the first half of getting in gaps and we made an adjustment so we had to be more determined to get in there,” Bryant said.

With 13:21 to play, Bryant swatted down a shot from the Eagles’ Nicholas King and freshman Thomas Gardner grabbed the rebound. Bryant’s fast-break layup put the Tigers’ within 44-43. On the Tigers’ next possession, Bryant put back a missed 3-point attempt from Linas Kleiza, and the Tigers took the lead 45-44.

The Eagles tried to stop the Tigers’ run with another 3-point attempt, but Bryant batted down Raheem Scott’s shot. He capitalized on a huge defensive stop and passed to an unguarded Johnson, lurking in the lane.

Johnson’s hit a jumper and turned a three-point play after a Chad Yates foul. The play gave the Tigers a 50-49 lead with 10:36 left, a lead they guarded the rest of the game.

Johnson said having Bryant to back him up fueled his energy. He also said knowing the Tigers have plenty of scoring threats takes pressure off of the entire team.

“It just showed that we’ve got a lot of guys who can step up and make plays,” Johnson said. “That just gives everybody confidence.”

Johnson followed Bryant’s offensive leadership with 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

Bryant said there was no secret to breaking through as Missouri’s top scorer Tuesday. He didn’t want to walk off the court handing the Eagles a win.

“Being down eight points, I think that will do it for you, knowing that you don’t want to lose to Coppin State,” he said.

Although he credited the Eagles’ challenge, Bryant said once his team made its halftime adjustments, the Tigers’ win came easier than it looked.

“I just let the game come to me and played off my teammates,” Bryant said. “It ended up falling right into my lap.”

After the half, Bryant and his teammates started targeting the holes in the Eagles’ zone defense, a move Missouri coach Quin Snyder said was pivotal in the Tigers’ comeback.

“Give Travon credit,” he said. “I think what happened was those guys started crashing to the middle of the zone. When you’re able to crash into the zone we’re able to catch and we got really good things. The execution side of it was I think the primary thing.”

Bryant said digging openings in the lane created more foul trouble for the Eagles. Eagles’ center Brad Yates fouled out just before the four-minute mark and forward Darron Bradley was called for his fourth with 8:24 left.

Although Bryant has been notorious for getting into foul trouble himself, he only committed one personal foul, a pushing call with 11:38 left.

Snyder said he benched Bryant early in the second half because he didn’t see energy his team needed. That was enough motivation for Bryant.

“He really responded and made some big-time plays,” Snyder said. “That’s what he’s been doing for us all through the preseason he’s played at that level.”

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