COLUMBIA — Perhaps the best indication of the kind of night it was for Earnest Ross and Missouris mens basketball team, in general came in the waning seconds of the first half on Monday, with the Tigers leading Northwest Missouri State by 29.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Ross, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, stood a foot or two beyond the three-point line, the clock winding down. He leaped to hoist a shot, appeared to change his mind but heaved the ball toward the net anyway. It dropped straight through, bringing the Mizzou Arena crowd of 7,741 to its feet as their new-look team headed to the locker room with a massive halftime lead on the way to a 91-58 victory.
He kind of fouled me a little bit, but I had to find a way to make the shot, Ross said.
Lucky, Missouri coach Frank Haith playfully mumbled under his breath.
Now, it was only an exhibition, of course, and Missouris opponent from Division II was nothing like the titans the Tigers figure to face in the Southeastern Conference. But as far as season openers go, its hard to imagine one going much better for Haiths squad, which shot 61.8 percent from the field.
We saw a glimpse of how good this team can be, Haith said.
Ross, a transfer from Auburn, absolutely led the charge. After sitting out all of last year due to NCAA transfer rules, he made his debut in an MU uniform an impressive one, scoring a team-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 6-for-10 from three-point range.
But Ross who came to MU with a reputation for rebounding and getting to the rim was hardly the only newcomer to make an impact. Despite losing five of its top seven players from last years 30-5 team, Haith spoke early and often about the potential of this years group, which is potentially loaded with the size and depth that last years team lacked.
But what the 2011-2012 team had in spades was unselfishness, chemistry and knack for avoiding mistakes, and thats something this group will clearly need to develop with time.
We had too many turnovers, travels, illegal screens, those are bad plays, Haith said. Weve got to get that cleaned up.
Even still, the pieces are there. Start with junior point guard Phil Pressey, the preseason SEC player of the year, who had six turnovers but also finished with four points and 11 assists. Senior forward Laurence Bowers, who had his 2011-2012 season wiped out by a knee injury, was effective in his first game action in over a year, scoring 14 points with three rebounds.
And dont forget three more transfers senior guard Keion Bell (Pepperdine), senior center Alex Oriakhi (UConn) and junior forward Tony Criswell (Independence C.C. in Oklahoma City) making their MU debuts.
Bell showed off his trademark athleticism, scoring 20 points including a highlight-reel dunk over two defenders while Oriakhi finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, and two blocks. Criswell finished with eight points, including a nice turnaround jumper from the post, and five rebounds.
In all, it should come as no surprise that MU, using the collective talents of all the aforementioned players, jumped out to a 27-3 first-half lead and never looked back. The Tigers held Northwest Missouri State to 21-of-63 shooting (33.3 percent) and forced 24 turnovers in the game, though they committed 25 themselves.
So yes, Haith will have a few things to nitpick before his teams next game, another home exhibition against Missouri Southern on Nov. 4.
But at the end of the day, its hard to call Mondays debut anything other than what it was: a predictably strong showing, exactly the kind a potential-laden team whose coach has raved about it should have.
We turned the ball over way too much tonight, Haith said. With that said, good start.