During Missouri’s 65-45 win over Texas-Arlington, Torrence Watson looked like himself.
The 6-foot-5 freshman guard led Missouri with 12 points — a career-high — and hit shots from all over the floor.
For the first time this season, he seemed like the player who scored 2,755 points in high school and averaged 31.2 points per game his senior year at The Whitfield School in St. Louis.
Before Tuesday, it was hard to see the version of Watson that made him such a good prospect and someone coach Cuonzo Martin had been expecting to be an immediate contributor, especially on offense.
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Watson logged a career-high 29 minutes against the Mavericks but had been playing less than 20 for most of MU’s previous games. He looked lost on the court at times and admitted that the pressure he put on himself got to his head.
“Coming into college, it was a lot harder than I expected,” Watson said. “Having to work a lot harder than I did at Whitfield. Just getting the mindset that some shots didn’t fall, so I was struggling a little bit.”
Watson’s high school coach Mike Potsou said that his former star player was expecting to be a big part of MU’s plans going into the season, especially as a highly touted in-state prospect, and after Jontay Porter was lost for the season because of injury.
But as Watson struggled to shoot and adjust to the college game, his issues snowballed. When he would check into games he would get passive instead of looking to score. Martin was never concerned with Watson’s play and said that the current climate with freshmen in college basketball is part of the problem.
“Because of the landscape one-and-dones, the mentality is a guy can’t be a freshman and go through struggles,” Martin said.
Watson, a four-star recruit when he signed, said he got away with playing poor defense in high school, which has been his biggest hurdle since getting to Columbia.
Martin is a defensive-minded coach who usually preaches it as a ticket for younger players to get on the floor.
“It’s really difficult to play defense for him,” Watson said of Martin. “I’ll say that.”
While his confidence took a hit, he confided in fellow MU freshman Javon Pickett, Watson’s longtime AAU teammate who has broken into the Tigers’ starting lineup, mainly because of his work ethic and defense.
“(Tuesday) was big for him,” Pickett said. “He may not have been playing as good as he wish he was. He went out and did that today.”
Watson said his performance on Tuesday did a lot for his confidence, and his mind couldn’t be turning the corner at a better time. Missouri has won its last two games and plays Oral Roberts on Friday before facing Xavier and Illinois before Christmas.
Fellow newcomer K.J. Santos is expected to make his MU debut on Friday against Oral Roberts, which could give the Tigers another offensive weapon.
Like Martin, Potsou isn’t worried about Watson in the long term because he also overcame struggles at the beginning of his high school career.
“There are some direct similarities to what he’s going through now in college that he did in high school,” he said. “We all know how that turned out.”