COLUMBIA — Improved rebounding was Missouri men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson’s message from Day 1.
“You’re not going to win many games when you’re scoring 74 and the other team is scoring 74,” Anderson said at his first press conference this season on Oct. 10. “I think rebounding had a big part to do with it (winning).”
Missouri collected 32.8 rebounds per game in conference play last season, nine less than Big 12 Conference champion Kansas.
The Tigers lost their leading rebounder from last season when Kalen Grimes was dismissed from the team over the summer, but the more athletic Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll offered hope for improvement.
After Thursday’s 113-55 win over Missouri Western in the final preseason tuneup, it was clear to Lyons and Carroll what they needed to work on.
“Rebounding,” Lyons said. “A lot of rebounding,”
And Carroll: “Rebounding. That’s all you can say is rebounding.”
Missouri was outrebounded 33 to 36 in their first exhibition game against Missouri-St. Louis. The Tigers did better against Missouri Western, grabbing 41 to Western’s 38, but there were some things worth noting about the game against the Griffons.
The tallest player on Missouri Western’s starting lineup was 6 feet, 6 inches tall, and Missouri’s leading rebounder in that game was Keon Lawrence, a 6-2 guard.
“That was a topic at halftime,” Justin Safford, a 6-8 forward said. “Us big guys, we have to be more aggressive on boards.”
Lawrence’s big rebounding day can be partially attributed to Missouri Western attempting 27 3-pointers and missing 20 of them, and Lawrence was doing exactly what Anderson has been preaching.
“When you play against guys that are really going to throw some haymakers in there, you really have to throw their nose in there,” Anderson said.
The brunt of the rebounding duties will always be left to the big men, but with an up-tempo offense like Missouri’s, strong guard rebounding can be just as important. Missouri’s athletic forwards can get down the court quickly when a guard grabs a rebound.
“I think we are really fast,” Anderson said. “You saw Keon get the ball and he can get it out. And now you’ve got the bigger guys running lanes or finishing it on the break.”
That’s what happened on Thursday. Carroll scored 15 and Lyons scored 12, mostly on fast-breaks and easy baskets.
The Tigers still might have work to do if they want to regain some pride in their rebounding.
“I’m going to try man,” Lawrence said when asked if he could lead the team in rebounds this season. “Coach wants me to get rebounds; I’m going to go and get them.”
Rebounding will be key for the Tigers Monday night in their season opener against visiting Central Michigan in the first round of the College Basketball Experience Classic.
Ranked No. 24 in collegeinsider.com’s mid-major top-25 poll, Central Michigan is a big step up from the Division II opponents Missouri played in exhibition.
“With our schedule, you’ve got to be ready to play every single night, no matter who you play,” Anderson said. “You cannot look at people’s jerseys and assume.”
Three major Division I schools have already been upset by lower division opponents in exhibition play, including No. 8 Michigan State, and Missouri hopes to avoid a similar fate.