Pressey continues through difficult stretch

Despite some recent struggles, Phil Pressey has the confidence of his Missouri teammates and coaches.

Despite some recent struggles, Phil Pressey has the confidence of his Missouri teammates and coaches. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — It’s no secret Phil Pressey wants the ball in his hands in late-game situations.

A dynamic playmaker who can create his own shot or create one for others is a good weapon for the Tigers to have.

But success in those situations has eluded Pressey and the Tigers of late. Missouri has lost three of its last six games, with all three losses coming down to the final possession.

Pressey, by nature, takes it personally.

“I take the responsibility and every single one of these losses is on me,” he said. “I’m not afraid to say that.”

Missouri let a four-point lead evaporate in the final 30 seconds Saturday against Arkansas, but still had two chances with the ball to win the game. Down a point with less than 10 seconds to go, Pressey was stripped of the ball near halfcourt. After Arkansas made a free throw to go up by two with four seconds left, Pressey found Jabari Brown for an open 3-pointer that didn’t fall as Missouri lost 73-71.

That’s how it’s been lately for Pressey and the Tigers in close games.

Against Texas A&M, Missouri appeared to have the game in hand. With less than 30 seconds left and a one-point lead, all the Tigers needed to do was get fouled and make free throws. Instead, Pressey threw an errant pass into the stands. After the Aggies hit a 3-pointer to take the lead, Pressey took a questionable 3-pointer in the final seconds as the Tigers fell again.

It was the same against LSU when Pressey launched up a 3-pointer at the buzzer that didn’t go in a two-point loss. That game he took 21 shots.

“We’ve got to show him confidence and our belief in him,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “He’s our guy as I said earlier. That’s all we can do. I’m not going to shred his confidence by taking the ball out of his hands for sure. Maybe we’ve got to help him some ways in what we do in terms of late game. He’s going to be out there late games.”

Pressey’s teammates said they haven’t lost confidence in his ability to score and make others around him better.

Center Alex Oriakhi said he’s always telling Pressey to keep his confidence high.

“You’ve got to take the good with the bad,” Center Alex Oriakhi said. “You can’t be a fair-weather player. That’s one thing I will always tell him. As long as I’m by his side, his confidence won’t be down.”

Added forward Laurence Bowers: “He’s a great point guard. Everybody struggles. I believe his trust in the team has come a long way. He’s always in the gym working to get better. He’s always encouraging even if it’s not his night. I think when Phil gets lost in the game he really produces.”

Before the season started Pressey was given the difficult task of being the point guard for a team of entirely new faces.

Haith and several players insisted there would be an adjustment period where everyone would have to learn to play with Pressey, while Pressey would have to learn to trust those around him.

“I do want him to continue to trust the guys around him,” Haith said. “We’ve got some pretty good players. I think Keion Bell is playing like an all-conference player. We’ve got to utilize him and trust him. I think Alex and Laurence and Jabari are all pretty good players. We’ve just got to be willing to give the ball up to those guys.”

It seems like the adjustment phase is continuing. Pressey has committed 92 turnovers this year, more than he had last year. His shooting percentage is down eight percent (36 percent), and he’s taken 15 more shots in 10 fewer games so far this year.

The tough shooting included performances of 3-of-19 against Illinois, 8-of-22 against UCLA, 9-of-21 against LSU and 4-of-18 against Southeast Missouri State.

Pressey’s only game he shot above 50 percent in SEC play came against Mississippi State when he took one shot.

“What Phil is as a guy ... is that he’s a guy that when he’s on his game, he makes guys better,” Haith said. “That’s the strength of his game. That’s not to say he can’t score, because he can. But I think when he’s at his best is when he’s playmaking and getting guys involved.”

Pressey not only has high expectations for himself, but outsiders had the same for him and this Missouri squad.

He was named the preseason player of the year and the Tigers were expected to compete for the Southeastern Conference title in their first year in the league.

With six games left, beginning with tonight’s game against No. 5 Florida, the Tigers are 7-5 in league play and sit in fifth place. That’s a far cry from what many thought the Tigers would do in a league considered by most to be down this season.

“It’s tough,” Pressey said. “I know the game of basketball nobody plays a perfect game. There hasn’t been a perfect game played yet. You can’t really complain over it too much. You have to learn from it and try not to make the same mistake again.”

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