In a game that had been touted as Michael Porter Jr.’s homecoming for months, Missouri’s freshman phenom spent the majority of it on the bench.
After getting a putback lay-up for his first college points two minutes into Missouri’s season-opener against Iowa State, the 6-foot-10 forward was taken out because of a hip injury and didn’t return for the remainder of Missouri’s 75-59 win. Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game that Porter had told him his leg was bothering him but didn’t get specific. Martin said that was the extent to what he knew.
Kevin Puryear and Jordan Barnett, two of Missouri’s most prominent players the last few years under former coach Kim Anderson, combined for 32 points in powering the Tigers in Porter’s absence. In his first ever game as a point guard, graduate-transfer Kassius Robertson finished with 11 points.
“(Puryear) is a guy that has to bring the heat for us,” Martin said. “He’s been in this league, he’s battle-tested, he knows how to get to the free-throw line, he knows how to make shots. He’s a guy we have to rely on.”
Porter emerged from Missouri’s tunnel to a thunderous ovation in Mizzou Arena’s first sellout in almost five years. After being taken out early in the game, the arena went silent as Martin made numerous substitutions, none of which included the team’s star player. At halftime it was revealed that Porter injured himself in warm-ups and was being held out for precautionary reasons.
Puryear and Barnett got the crowd back into the game as they sparked an 8-0 run late in the first half, giving Missouri a 39-25 lead going into halftime.
After having a poor performance in the team’s preseason exhibition game against Kansas, Puryear was all over the floor for Missouri. He found Jeremiah Tilmon wide open underneath the basket in the second-half and then hit a baseline jump shot shortly after to extend Missouri’s lead.
Tilmon, who had battled foul trouble throughout Missouri’s preseason, finished with 14 points and seven rebounds on Friday and was a factor on both sides of the ball for Missouri. Five of his seven rebounds came on defense, and he continued to impress with his post moves and athleticism around the rim.
“He was an absolute beast down low,” Puryear said of Tilmon. “One thing I don’t think he gets enough credit for is his footwork. His footwork is extremely good down low. He put a very good game together.”
Iowa State whittled its deficit to as short as single digits numerous times early in the second half, but Missouri always had an answer.
Cyclones guard Lindell Wigginton had a layup through traffic with just over 16 minutes left in the second half to cut Missouri’s lead to 47-39 but backup point guard Jordan Geist hit a shot the following possession to bring the lead right back to double-digits for MU. Martin called Geist “a pest” on defense and was proud of the minutes he gave Missouri. Geist had a team-high four assists.
“We had chances,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said. “We got it to 10 or eight. You’ve got to execute offensively, and you can’t give the little stretch where they went on an 8-0 run to go from 10 to about 18. That was crucial. But it was all open threes and layups. We’ve got to get honed in on transition defense.”
Barnett and Puryear connected on back-to-back threes with just over six minutes remaining to extend Missouri’s lead to 20 and send Mizzou Arena into mayhem. The Tigers’ win was Martin’s first at Mizzou and snapped Iowa State’s streak of 117 games in which it didn’t lose a game by 15 or more points.
Missouri is back in action on Monday against Wagner. It remains unclear if Porter will be on the floor or on the bench for it.