Sunday, March 4, 2007

1993-94 Redux: Missouri 78, Mercer 50

(Loved the bit about Larry Bird and Indiana State. I’m having a lot of fun reading these old write-ups.)

December 30, 1993: MU Faces Weary Bears

of the Tribune's staff

Two teams going in opposite directions meet tonight in the Hearnes Center.

Missouri, playing its first game since beating No. 19 Illinois in triple overtime eight days ago in St. Louis, plays Mercer at 7 in the Hearnes Center.

The Tigers (6-1) will be trying to build on that 108-107 victory, by far their best game of the season. The Bears (2-6) are looking forward to getting back to Macon, Ga., where the temperature seldom gets down into single digits and where they haven't played since Dec. 4. They arrived pre-chilled yesterday from Tennessee, where they lost 67-45 to the Volunteers. “We shot the ball horribly,” coach Bill Hodges said.

Mercer will return home to begin Trans America Athletic Conference play with Georgia State and College of Charleston. The TAAC has regained its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after a season in which no member received a postseason invitation. College of Charleston, which reinforced its preseason status as the TAAC favorite by beating Penn State on Tuesday, is a newcomer to the conference and not eligible for its tournament.

Hodges said the Bears can contend for that, and the TAAC's return to the NCAA field has not been lost on the players.

“You always have that as a motivator,” he said. “We were in the title chase last year, but it's just not the same.”

Mercer, which hired Hodges after going 2-25 in 1990-91, tied for second in the TAAC last season. He had been at Georgia College in Milledgeville, the hometown of former Tiger star Malcolm Thomas. Hodges is best known as the coach of Indiana State when Larry Bird led the Sycamores to the NCAA title game in 1979.

When he visits Terre Haute, Hodges stays in Bird's hotel there. “I never have to pay there,” Hodges said. Bird keeps surprising track of Mercer. “Amazingly, he usually knows names and stats,” Hodges said.

That should mean Bird is aware of 6-foot-8, 260-pound Jeff Belmer, a junior college transfer who was ticketed for Clemson out of high school and leads the Bears in scoring and rebounding.

“He's a power player, but he's really got some ability,” Hodges said. “He's a hard, hard worker.

Four starters from last season have departed.

Forward Scott Farley, last season's sixth man, is out for the season with a knee injury. Forward Ledon Green, the second-leading scorer this season, was sent home from Tennessee, where he suffered a broken hand.

The Bears will try to stop the damage tonight. They've also been to Tulane, Georgia Tech and Hawaii since their last home game. Hodges intends to curb that vicious streak in the schedule in future years. “It kills your morale and beats you up physically,” he said.
December 31, 1993: Tigers Finally Get Their Half of It

of the Tribune's staff

Before last night, Missouri had won its five games at the Hearnes Center, but big first-half leads evidently had been marked “Don't open before Christmas.” The Tigers gave a peek at what they hope is their complete package last night, routing Mercer 78-50.

The Bears (2-7) actually outpointed the Tigers (7-1) in the second half, but the game was settled when Missouri took a 46-17 lead into the locker room.

“That's the way it's supposed to have been,” senior guard Melvin Booker said. “That's what we've been trying to do all year against much smaller teams, but we always came out and struggled.”

Last night they shuttled. Coach Norm Stewart used 11 players in the first half, including newly minted folk hero Paul O'Liney. They took a bounding step toward being the deep, quick, pressing team envisioned in the preseason.

“I thought we really for the most part came out and executed, did what we wanted to do,” Stewart said. “We wanted to press them defensively.

“I just thought we had a pretty good balance, so I was really pleased with that.”

The Tigers had their best offensive first half of the season, bettering the 42 points scored against Illinois last week. That fed the press, which fed the scoring and left the Bears dizzy. Many of Mercer's 15 first-half turnovers were unforced, but the Tigers were quick to take advantage either way.

The Bears missed their last 10 field goal attempts and final four free throws of the first half. They went scoreless the last 8:57 allowing Missouri to turn a 27-17 lead into a laugh riot with 19 unanswered points.

Three times in the second half, Missouri led by 41 points.

Mercer coach Bill Hodges somehow detected some silver lining as the Bears headed home to Macon, Ga., to begin Trans America Athletic Conference play.

“Actually, we played better in spots than we have,” Hodges said. “I'm encouraged with some of the things we did, we just have to shoot the ball better.”

Despite center Jeff Belmer making six of 10 from the field and scoring a game-high 20 points, Mercer couldn't muster 30 percent shooting. Missouri made 30 of 61 and was better than 57 percent when Booker brought his team-high 15 points to the bench to stay with 13:17 to play and the Tigers leading 63-26.

“It felt good to sit down there the last 11 minutes of the game,” Booker said.

Missouri's previous victories have usually required a full night's work from Booker, who is leading the Tigers in scoring, assists and minutes, as he did last season.

Reviewing Missouri's first seven opponents, Stewart noted that five reached postseason play and Jackson State and Coppin State have played credibly on the road at higher-profile schools this season.

“On the other hand, I still don't think that we were playing well,” he said.

Last night he was able to take a long look and a short joke at the roster.

“We've got 16 people; we've got 15 guards,” he said.

“We're starting to figure ourselves out a little bit offensively, and I like our shooters, but we've go a lot of work to do.”

Sunday will be a work day with Washington visiting the Hearnes Center for a 3 p.m. game.