Mizzou Preseason Opener: Defense Doesn't Rest

Neither Keon Lawrence nor Mike Anderson needed to say a word. A shared grin between coach and player sufficed. It was Missouri's first game of the new season, an exhibition Saturday against Missouri-St. Louis, and Lawrence had done something he'd never done before – not in high school, and not in college.

He'd taken a charge.

While playing defense away from the play, Lawrence took position between his man and the hoop, set his feet and, upon impact, flung backwards onto the hardwood at Mizzou Arena. Though technically his man didn't have possession of the ball when the offensive foul was called, Lawrence, prodded by Anderson all off-season about his defense, quickly fended off any question about whether it truly counted as his first charge taken.

"That counted," he said through a proud smile. "I fell."

Lawrence's career first will hardly go down in the annals of Missouri basketball, what with it coming in a 78-51 pre-season victory against a Division II school and all. But it was also a telling moment.

Missouri opened Year Two of the Anderson era playing the sort of frantic, unrelenting defense by which the coach has defined himself, forcing an unheard-of 36 turnovers, albeit against a D-II team called the ‘Tritons.'

"Our defense was pretty stifling at times. We got our hands on a lot of basketballs," said Anderson, whose team used a suffocating defensive trap to overcome a slow start that saw UMSL lead for most of the first 10 minutes.

In his first official game as a Tiger, transfer DeMarre Carroll lived up to the expectations that earned him pre-season Big 12 newcomer of the year honors. In 23 minutes, the 6-8 power forward made seven of eight shots for 16 points, grabbed two rebounds and provided a dynamic presence at the front of MU's trapping defense.

"We need that from him. He just gives it all every time he gets out there," said Lawrence (13 points), who was one of four MU players who scored in double-figures.

Shooting guard Stefhon Hannah, meantime, thrived in his return from a brief suspension for what Anderson termed a lack of focus. Hannah scored 13 points, stole the ball six times and generally seemed to be working within the team concept – an issue about which Anderson has expressed frustration at times.

"I thought he spearheaded it. The way we play defense, I think it's contagious," Anderson said.

"He came off the one-game suspension and he's hopefully got his focus intact. He loves to play. One thing about him – he plays with an energy and he plays with a passion. And I think it just kind of filters throughout our team … He's important to our basketball team, we all knew that. But I want Stef in the right mindset."

One of the highlights of Hannah's night was a fastbreak alley-oop to Carroll that was part of a 22-8 run Mizzou used to take over the game.

"You've got somebody who can penetrate, create, get you the ball, [and is] tenacious on defense. He's a big player, a big-time player," Carroll said.

Power forward Leo Lyons grabbed a game-high nine rebounds against a UMSL team that had no one to match his size and athleticism. He also scored 11 points, including a thunderous fastbreak dunk. Senior point guard Jason Horton created for teammates, notching eight assists, but struggled to find his aim from outside en route to a scoreless night.

And the biggest lingering issue – Mizzou's lack of rebounding – remained exactly that, as undersized UMSL out-rebounded the Tigers 36-to-33.

"I thought we were kind of spacey with rebounding. We were in position but we weren't coming up with it," Anderson said. "They attacked us, as opposed to us attacking the rebounding part of it … I think we can rebound a lot better."

Still, it's not as if Mizzou's players are suddenly growing to grow a few inches apiece. There will be plenty of nights this season on which the Tigers will get beat on the boards, but Anderson is preaching to his players that aggressiveness and toughness will overcome the lack of brawn.
"Yeah, that's the problem we had last year. We're still working on it. I don't think it's going to change overnight," Lyons said.

"It's nothing you can work on, it's just something you've just got to go out there and do. Everybody's gotta have the mindset."

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