Missouri's Pressey finds ways to lead

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri Tigers coach Frank Haith has taken Phil Pressey aside in the past when he has felt the junior point guard has been trying to do too much and needs to be reined in.

By the numbers, Saturday’s performance against the Illinois Fighting Illini would have warranted that.

But even though Pressey continued to shoot after plenty of misses and ended up with the worst shooting day of his career, hitting just 3 of 19 field goals, it never crossed Haith’s mind to have that conversation with Pressey.

“There’s times when Phil is just caught in wanting to take the game on sometimes, and he can,” Haith said. “I compare him to T.J. Ford. T.J. Ford was like that, too. But there’s times you got to back off a little bit and trust your teammates.

“But he was such in a great flow tonight where I didn’t have to say anything to him. I didn’t know he took 19 shots, to be honest with you, until the end.”

And that’s where the brilliance of Pressey’s game lies:

He’s the sort of player who doesn’t have to score -- even if he’s trying to score -- to impact a game. In Missouri’s 82-73 win over Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game, Pressey proved to be the difference by pushing the ball, finding open teammates, defending well and being a leader.

Illinois coach John Groce certainly looked past Pressey’s shooting performance when he described his game.

“I thought he was dynamic,” Groce said. “In terms of getting inside the lane ... as good of a point guard as we’ve played through 13 games. He reminded me of the kid I coached at Ohio, D.J. Cooper, with his shiftiness, his vision and ability to put balls on target, his ability to see. And then he reminded me as well with that shiftiness and vision of the kid [Mike] Conley that I had a chance to coach as an assistant at Ohio State who is now with the Grizzlies. He’s special in that regard.”

“Then he puts pressure on your defense in transition,” he said. “He’s fast. Trying to get him corralled and under control isn’t easy. We didn’t do as good of a job as we wanted to do.”

Pressey was especially difficult to handle with the game winding down. With Missouri ahead 68-64, Pressey took over in the final minutes to assure the win. He scored eight points of his 12 points and dished out one of his game-high 11 assist in the final 4:30.

Missouri senior forward Laurence Bowers didn’t know what he’d do without Pressey.

“He’s the coach on the floor,” Bowers said. “I definitely think he’s the best point guard in the nation. If he can’t get his offense going, he definitely gets everyone else going. He’s a pass-first point guard.

“Today, he struggled with his shot, but in the clutch he made big plays for us, and we benefitted.”

While everyone else wasn’t counting Pressey’s misses, he noticed the number was rising. Despite all that, Pressey remained positive.

“Just trying to stay in attack mode,” Pressey said. “If I’m not hitting my shot, I’m just trying to get my guys involved.”

Pressey offered a unique view about his misses.

“Even though I was missing those shots, I felt like it was an opportunity for our bigs to clean up those misses,” Pressey said. “My dad always told me if you can’t pass, just throw it up and your big will get a rebound. When I see a big coming over, I know I have guys like Laurence and the rest of my bigs who can clean that up.”

Haith, who was sitting next to Pressey, laughed along with the rest of the room.

“We can’t let anyone know that’s our game plan,” Haith said.