Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin always intended to lean on his most veteran players this season, but when the school announced Michael Porter Jr. would “likely” miss the season after undergoing back surgery, those veterans became more important.
And after graduate transfer Kassius Robertson and senior Jordan Barnett both played well in the AdvoCare Invitational this weekend in Orlando, Fla., the idea that Missouri could rely on the Tigers’ most veteran players became more believable.
It’s early in the season, so the sample size is small and there aren’t many stretches of games to choose from, but both Robertson and Barnett played their most consistent basketball of the season during the tournament, in which Mizzou finished second after an 83-79 loss to No. 23 West Virginia on Sunday.
Robertson, who came to Missouri with a reputation as an outside threat, made 10 of 18 three-point attempts in Orlando after struggling offensively in the Tigers’ two games leading up to the tournament. Martin originally tabbed Robertson as Missouri’s starting point guard, but in Orlando, he started at shooting guard, where Martin has said he thought it would be easier to create shots for Robertson.
“I went through plenty of slumps through my whole career,” Robertson said. “Just gotta keep shooting.”
Martin thinks Barnett, who is 6-feet-7 and 215 pounds, has the potential to be one of Missouri’s best defenders, and the senior from St. Louis showed it in flashes during the tournament. He recorded at least one steal in each of Missouri’s three games in Orlando. He also scored a combined 40 points in Missouri’s games against St. John’s and No. 23 West Virginia.
Both Robertson and Barnett hit big threes in the second half of Missouri’s dramatic, back-and-forth win against St. John’s.
“The shots I got today were the shots I’ve been getting the past couple of games,” Barnett said after the St. John’s game. “I was just able to knock some down. Feels good to get out of the slump.”
At times this season — during the Tigers’ loss to Utah and close victory over Emporia State — Missouri has looked like a team missing a go-to scorer, someone the team can lean on when shots aren’t falling. That might still prove to be the case if Robertson and Barnett are struggling offensively, but they are first and second on the team in minutes, respectively, and their play in Florida should have been encouraging for their coach.
One position still struggling
The point-guard rotation continues to be a story line to watch for this team. Freshman Blake Harris started at point guard during each of Missouri’s three games in Orlando. They were the first starts of his career — but he ended up playing few minutes in two of those three games.
Harris logged just 8 minutes against St. John’s and 6 minutes against West Virginia. In the second half of the Tigers’ tight game against West Virginia, Martin relied on more veteran players, Jordan Geist and Terrence Phillips, both of whom struggled late against the Mountaineers. Geist averaged 26.5 minutes during the three games MU played in the tournament.
Martin said Harris is not injured, so it appears the coach just does not yet trust the freshman late in close games.