By Eric Short
With 5:25 left in the second half, Missouri senior forward Alex Oriakhi picked up a cheap foul. As Mizzou Arena’s crowd booed in response, Oriakhi clapped his hands together and showed everyone his huge grin, all 32 of his pearly whites glistening.
As the referee walked over to the scorer’s table to report the foul, Oriakhi treated him like one of his Tiger teammates and gave him an “’Atta boy” tap on his rear end.
The trademark smile remained.
Oriakhi had a lot to smile about all night. His 17 points led the Tigers and his 10 rebounds gave him his second straight double-double as Missouri defeated Nicholls State 74-54.
When Oriakhi came to Missouri from UCONN, he was known more for his defensive abilities. However, Oriakhi has made great strides on the offensive end of the court this year.
He prefers to remain humble about his recent outbursts on offense.
“I’m not that much of an offensive player, but when I get the ball in the post I feel like I can make plays,” Oriakhi said.
His coach? Not so humble.
“If you are not much of an offensive player, then you must have psychological problems,” Missouri coach Frank Haith quickly responded.
“I honestly just credit the coaching staff with giving me confidence. Coach Haith believes in me and lets me play through my mistakes,” Oriakhi said.
Two other transfers complemented Oriakhi’s big night. Keion Bell had 13 points, seven rebounds, and four steals while Earnest Ross scored 16 points and nabbed 5 rebounds.
Ross knocked down three 3-pointers and said he credits a growing familiarity with his point guard to his hot shooting.
“Playing more and more with Phil Pressey has been great for getting me shots,” Ross said. “Once I get my feet set and my confidence going, I will see more of those shots go in.”
The Tigers will face a huge test next week as they travel to the Bahamas to compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Thanksgiving tournament will prove a good measuring stick for Haith’s Tigers as the tournament features three other teams ranked in the top 25: No. 4 ranked Louisville, No. 9 Duke and No. 17 Memphis.
Haith said they have a lot to do to get prepared.
“If we do three things, work on getting to lose balls, drawing more charges and blocking out better we will be a much better basketball team.”
Haith also left little room to question the Tigers’ focus. When asked what he was looking forward to about the Bahamas besides basketball, Haith coolly responded with only four words.
“There is nothing else,” he said.