COLUMBIA — It’s easy to forget that Matt Lawrence had to walk on to the Missouri basketball team. As a sophomore, the lanky 6-foot-7 guard became a bona fide presence. He started every game and was Missouri’s second-leading scorer.
Armed with an accurate perimeter shot, he was the Big 12 Conference’s second-best in 3-point total and percentage last season.
Expectations were quite a bit higher for Lawrence this season. After six games, he is still striving to reach them.
Lawrence has started every game, but his scoring average of 7.3 points per game is nearly four less than last season and his 3-point percentage has slipped from .443 to .322.
He had his worst game on Nov. 20. In Missouri’s 84-70 win over Maryland, Lawrence shot 1-for-9 and 1-for-7 from 3-point range.
Because of Thanksgiving, Missouri had a five-day break until its next game. In that time, Lawrence was in Columbia watching film and taking lots of shots.
“I looked at my shot and I noticed it was a little flat,” Lawrence said. “So I tried to come out and I think I was kind of hoping it in, hoping not to miss, just get my confidence back.”
It showed against Western Illinois on Sunday, when Lawrence scored nine points on 3-for-6 shooting from the perimeter.
“After I hit one, you definitely get your confidence up a little bit more,” Lawrence said. “You’re kind of hunting shots but you don’t want to force anything. And my teammates were finding me, looking for me too, trying to get me back in the rhythm.”
Coach Mike Anderson would like to see that continue tonight, when the Tigers travel to Arkansas. Lawrence doesn’t fit the speedy, ultra-athletic mold of most Anderson players, but he has a clear role on this team.
“You can see, when he knocks shots down it really opens up the passing,” Anderson said after the Western Illinois win. “I thought we had good spacing. So when you saw Keon (Lawrence) getting penitration, Stefhon (Hannah) getting to the basket, even Leo (Lyons) attacking; when you get a guy who can knock shots down, it makes a big, big difference. It opens up passing lanes for everybody else.”
The Tigers will need that in their first true road test of the season. The Tigers went 1-1 last week on a (hardly) neutral court in Kansas City, but the fans at Bud Walton Arena are expected to be much more hostile. Missouri has not won at Arkansas since 1991.
“It’s going to be a raucous atmosphere, definitely,” Lawrence said. “But our coaches do a good job saying it’s not about them it’s about us as a basketball team coming together and becoming a better team. It’s always hard to win on the road but when you win on the road it’s an extra special feeling.”
The Razorbacks (4-1) were ranked coming into the season but sit just outside both polls after a 51-67 loss at Providence.
“I think we ready, man,” guard Keon Lawrence said. “We learned a lot. We watched a lot of film from Michigan State and we learned a lot from that.”
CONFERENCE TICKETS: A package of upper-level reserved tickets for all eight of Missouri’s home conference basketball games goes on sale today for $179. You can order the “Big 12 Bundle,” as it’s called, by calling 1-800-CAT-PAWS or visiting www.mutigers.com. The offer ends at 5 p.m. on Dec. 14.