Butterflies were fluttering for Tim Fuller.
“I was emotional in the locker room before the game,” said Fuller, the Missouri assistant who is sitting in the head-coaching chair for five games during Frank Haith’s NCAA suspension. “My stomach was turning quite heavy.”
Then the game started, and all was well.
The Tigers clobbered Southeastern Louisiana 89-53, and it was never a contest.
Guards led the way. Jabari Brown finished with 19, Jordan Clarkson 14, Wes Clark 13 and Earnest Ross 12.
Against an overmatched foe, Mizzou got productive play across the roster in winning its 74th straight at home against a non-conference opponent. The Tigers dominated the glass 47-26 and smothered the Southland Conference team on defense.
As the Tigers forge an identity, it’s apparent perimeter shooting will be a calling card.
Missouri went 12 for 23 from behind the arc, and at one point made six straight.
In the first half, the Tigers shot eight of 12 from deep, and were better from behind the three-point line than inside it.
“The offense lends itself, with our high pick and roll and our transition game, to get open shots,” Fuller said. “We work on that every single day, and we have great shooters.”
When the Lions flashed a zone in the first half, the Tigers went over the top, and produced the game’s key stretch.
Ross had opened the game’s scoring by knocking down two straight threes, but Missouri became stagnant and found itself leading only 14-11 when a perimeter-fueled 14-0 run over the next three minutes broke it open.
Stefan Jankovic got it started, and Clark and Brown also kicked in from deep.
Within the run came Jankovic’s three-point play, finishing a nice bounce pass from Ross.
“We know we’re a perimeter-oriented team,” Fuller said. “I’m telling them to be aggressive, to attack and attack. When I see that ball going through the net, I’m not calling that off.”
Clark, a freshman who had missed all five of three-point attempts in two preseason games, made all three tries Friday.
Clark entered the game after Clarkson collected his second foul, and it was a telling moment. Last season, when point guard Phil Pressey got in foul trouble, the Tigers had no reserve option. With Clarkson and Clark, suddenly there’s depth.
“He came and played well, at his own pace,” Brown said of Clark. “This was his first official game. He’s going to keep getting better.”
It was also Fuller’s first official game as a head coach. That’s never happened on any level since he broke into the profession in 2000 after a playing career at Wake Forest, where Haith was an assistant.
Under the terms of his suspension, Haith can’t be in the arena when the game is being played, but he had some encouragement for Fuller.
“He said, ‘You’re ready, and do what you know to do,’” Fuller said. “I almost feel like Coach Haith is not gone, that he’s a part of me. He helped raise me since I was 19 years old. I quietly hear him talking as I’m out there coaching.”