Each game provides a new discussion about Missouri’s point guard situation.
In Thursday’s 62-59 Mizzou win over Central Florida, which snapped a 36-game losing streak in true road games for MU, coach Cuonzo Martin leaned on Terrence Phillips, an incumbent starter turned occasional bench-warmer turned — at least for one game — Mizzou’s crunch-time point guard.
Against UCF, Phillips only attempted two shots in 20 minutes, which was the most playing time of Missouri’s three primary point guards — Phillips, Jordan Geist and starter Blake Harris. Both of Phillips’ shots came during the game’s most tense moments.
After A.J. Davis converted an and-one play that brought UCF within two points with two and a half minutes left, Phillips responded with a three from the top of the key, just his fifth of the season. It banked in off the backboard.
Then, with less than a minute remaining, Phillips used a screen to free himself and dribbled toward the basket. He pulled up for a mid-range shot that swished through the net and gave Missouri a five-point lead.
Martin has said point guard provides the toughest transition period from high school for players. So with Harris needing more time to develop and Geist battling soreness, according to Martin, Phillips ran MU’s offense in the closing moments. The junior did a better job on Thursday than he did in Missouri’s loss to West Virginia on Sunday, when he fed into Mizzou’s implosion by turning the ball over twice in fewer than 30 seconds.
“I’m extremely proud of Terrence,” senior forward Jordan Barnett said after the win Thursday. “He came in and really moved the ball when we needed him, got everyone involved down the stretch. He hit huge shots. That’s what a junior leader is supposed to do.”
When he met with reporters on the first day of official practice, Phillips wore custom Nikes he had hired an artist to make. They were gold with black Mizzou-centric words, like “columns,” covering them. Phillips remains one of the most animated players on Mizzou’s bench. He just started a non-profit in Columbia.
Phillips had started almost every game of his first two seasons at Mizzou, but he has played less than 10 minutes four times already this season, something he had never done during the two years he played under former Missouri coach Kim Anderson.
“The way he handles it, I have a tremendous amount of respect,” Martin said earlier this week, when asked about Phillips’ changed role. “… To have a young guy accept that role is not easy. I can only imagine. So I applaud him for it.”
During the summer, soon after Mizzou first received its influx of new talent, Phillips said he wanted to lead the country an assists.
He won’t receive enough playing time to even have a shot at his goal. He’s only averaging 2.4 assists this season, which would be a career low if he kept that mark for the entire season. But Thursday showed there will be moments — however infrequent they might be — that the Tigers will need Phillips.