Missouri’s basketball team got devastating news on Tuesday when it learned that star freshman Michael Porter Jr. would likely miss the remainder of the season after undergoing back surgery.
But so far, the team hasn’t missed a beat without him.
The Tigers will face No. 23 West Virginia on Sunday night in the championship game of the Advocare Invitational after blowing out Long Beach State on Thanksgiving and rallying late to fend off St. John’s.
Since it got the verdict on Porter, Missouri’s offense has had five players score in double-figures in both games of the tournament, with a different leading scorer each time. Against the 49ers, junior point guard Jordan Geist led the way with 16 points, while freshman forward Jontay Porter added 15. On Friday against St. John’s, senior Jordan Barnett had 19 in the win, followed closely by graduate transfer Kassius Robertson, who scored 17.
In Porter Jr.’s absence, head coach Cuonzo Martin said that’s how it’s going to be going forward.
“Our offense, obviously with Mike it’s a little different, it’s not necessarily built for a guy to get 25, 30 shots,” Martin said after the team’s win over Long Beach State. “Share the basketball, find the open man, that’s how we try to play. It could be a different guy every night.”
Missouri’s players echo their coach’s thoughts. After the team’s Thanksgiving win, Geist said if the team wants to win, the only option is to divide up the scoring since Porter’s injury leaves the team without an alpha dog who can take over a game when needed.
“We have to do that,” he said on Thanksgiving. “Not one person is going to win the game for us.”
Going into the tournament, the Tigers were coming off a pair of ugly performances in which the team struggled to beat a Division II team at home and couldn’t find the basket in its road loss at Utah.
Martin said after the win over St. John’s that he thinks Porter’s unknown injury status affected the team’s performance over the past week, and now that everyone is on the same page, they can move forward together.
“That’s your teammate, that’s your brother, some guys literally brother,” he said. “When you don’t know his future it’s hard when you’re going on the floor. Some of these guys came to play with Mike.”
The team has already showed it can win without Porter Jr. when the offense is stagnant. In the second half against St. John’s, the upperclassmen trio of Robertson, Barnett and Kevin Puryear all hit big shots to erase the Red Storm’s lead and put Missouri in the finals.
Once Robertson and Barnett got going, the likes of Porter and Geist were able to follow suit. Barnett thinks the veterans’ strong play jump-starts the freshmen’s confidence, which gets Missouri clicking on all cylinders.
Martin said Friday that he expects his seniors to take the reins in situations like that since they have more experience and can lead by example.
“Just us being able to stay composed and hit big shots when we needed to I think that in turn gave our young guys a lot more hope and gave them a lot more confidence,” Barnett said after the win over St. John’s. “Then in turn, Jontay starts hitting shots, (Puryear’s) hitting shots, Geist is playing really hard. It all worked out.”