There is a perception among Missouri fans that Laurence Bowers is struggling. To be honest, the perception isn't limited to the fans.
"I don't feel like I'm doing my best individually," the junior from Memphis said. "It's obvious on the court. I've just got to pick it up."
"I thought he was one of our more consistent players," Mike Anderson said. "I want him to, hopefully, get back in that same rhythm, that same groove."
In the Tigers' two exhibition games before the season started, Bowers looked like Anderson's go-to player. He put up an average of 24.5 points and ten rebounds in just 21 minutes per game. Since then, Bowers actually has been fairly consistent…he just hasn't been as productive. In nine regular season games, Bowers has scored between seven and twelve points eight times. The only outlier was an 18-point performance against Arkansas-Fort Smith.
It adds up to 10.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Though he is just the fifth-leading scorer for Missouri, both numbers are career-highs; Bowers averaged 10.2 and 5.7 as a sophomore.
"Laurence thinks he's not playing well. I think he's playing fine," Kim English said. "But that's good he has that feeling."
Coming into the season, Bowers was expected perhaps to be the Tigers' top offensive option. He expected it of himself.
"I consider myself one of the leaders on the team and so do my teammates. I've got to step up and lead not only vocally, but by example," Bowers said before Missouri's first regular season game. "I know that I have to do more than what I did last year for us to succeed."
And, as the numbers show, he has done more. But he feels it is less than what he is capable of doing.
"(I need to) step it up on the court, be more aggressive," Bowers said. "Coach always says let the game come to you and I think I've been trying to let the game come to me too much. I would definitely say being more aggressive is one of the things."
Primarily off the bench last season, Bowers averaged 7.5 shots per game and 2.3 free throw attempts. As a starter in every game this season, he is averaging 8.1 field goal attempts and four trips to the line. Again, the numbers indicate Bowers has been better than both he and the observers believe.
On Saturday against Presbyterian, the high flyer gave an indication some of the fire and flair that marks his game is on the way back. Bowers cut along the baseline toward the basket in the second half. He rose toward the rim as freshman Phil Pressey lofted an alley-oop pass. Bowers grabbed the ball out of the air, spun around and threw down a reverse two-handed dunk.
"I really wanted to do it for the fans," Bowers said. "I probably could have just dunked it regular, but you know, I turned it around. I just wanted to let the fans know that even though I'm kind of struggling right now, I can still do some stuff that'll get them on their feet."
Bowers is also doing one other thing that will bring the fans to their feet. And it's the only thing that really matters.
"We're winning," Bowers said.
Indeed, despite somewhat of a shooting slump from English, despite Bowers' struggles, despite Justin Safford battling his health, despite Pressey taking a little bit of time to adjust to Division One ball, despite very limited minutes from Ricky Kreklow, the Tigers are 8-and-1 and on the edge of the nation's top ten.
"We've passed some early tests. We failed one that we should have won easily, but we're learning from it. And, luckily, we're learning these things with wins. Eight and one is pretty good," English said. "The way we do it here, if you don't have a good game and we win, you better be the happiest guy in that locker room, work your butt off in practice that next week and go out and have a great game. If we win, it better be a happy locker room."
By that measure, Bowers and the Tigers have been happy a whole lot more often than not so far.
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