Missouri guard Stefhon Hannah described practice over the last month as “hell.” His reasoning was Missouri’s two-game losing streak that, because of the team’s schedule, was stretched over 26 days.
Hannah said after the Tigers’ 87-58 win against Southern University on Saturday, he is looking forward to walking back onto the practice floor.
“Everything’s been tough, because we’ve had so many days between games,” Hannah said. “It’s been hard going to practice every day. It’s always tougher going back after a loss. Everything is just down. Coming off the losses, we didn’t know how to adjust because it was our first two losses.”
Missouri (10-2) hadn’t played a game since its loss to Illinois on Dec. 19, and only two since Dec. 3, both on the road. In the first half against Southern (1-11), the rustiness showed. The Tigers turned the ball over 10 times in the game’s opening seven minutes in front of the season’s largest crowd of 9,091 at Mizzou Arena.
Their first-half sluggish play was capped by two missed dunks, one by Hannah and the other by center Kalen Grimes.
“We didn’t shoot the ball in the first half,” coach Mike Anderson said. “Not only that, 10 turnovers. ... I thought some of them were uncharacteristic of our basketball team.”
Anderson fiddled with his rotation throughout the first half against Southern, which lost its first 10 games of the season. At one point early in the first half, five bench players were on the floor. When that didn’t work, Anderson put some of his starters back in.
Guard Matt Lawrence, who has seen limited practice time recently, was the only spark for Missouri early in the first half. After missing practice Thursday with a hip pointer, Lawrence took part in a part of Friday’s practice.
On Saturday, though, Lawrence said his bruised hip wasn’t bothering him.
“I guess the adrenaline rush just kind of kicked in,” Lawrence said. “And I didn’t feel much out there. But I’m sure I’ll feel it in the morning when I wake up.”
Lawrence missed his first shot of the game, but proceeded to make nine of his next 10 shots. Six of those were from behind the three-point line. He finished with a team-leading 24 points in 27 minutes.
Some Missouri opponents have built defenses to stop Missouri’s hot-shooting guard by refusing to play help defense and not allowing him open space to shoot. But on Saturday, Anderson said his sophomore guard was getting more open looks.
“I just got the ball with opportunities to score,” Lawrence said. “My teammates knew that I had made a couple in a row. (Forward) Leo (Lyons) found me twice in the second half with some good passes. (Guard) J.T. (Tiller) found me on the break one time.
“It’s great to know we got guys that are looking for you a little bit when you knock down a couple in a row.”
Lawrence has been icing his bruised right hip the past couple days. To protect it during the game, Lawrence wrapped it tight and put a pad on it. The injury came when he fell on his hip while attempting to block a Marcus Watkins’ shot during Wednesday’s practice. The next day, Anderson said Lawrence was questionable to play Saturday.
“He’s got some savvy, but he’s got some toughness, too,” Anderson said. “He didn’t practice two days ago and practiced limited yesterday. It’s a credit to Matt.”
Hannah said Lawrence’s shooting opened up the court for him and other Missouri guards to drive to the basket, especially in the second half, where the Tigers scored 54 of their points.
“He was shooting it real well,” Hannah said. “We kept feeding off him. When they overplayed him, we’ll get some baskets or we’ll get some layups.”
Lawrence’s 24 points led to Anderson’s 99th win as a head coach. It also kept the Tigers undefeated at Mizzou Arena in 10 games this year.