There weren’t many positive takeaways from Missouri’s 24-point loss to No. 3 Tennessee on Tuesday, but if there was one, it would be sophomore K.J. Santos.
The 6-foot-8 forward logged career-highs in minutes (26) and points (seven) and showed flashes of being able to help a Missouri offense that ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in points per game.
Santos had missed most of the nonconference slate to a fractured right foot that he injured in the preseason and didn’t return until MU’s game against Oral Roberts on Dec. 7.
While he only scored three baskets for MU on Tuesday, it was the ways Santos scored that are encouraging for Missouri. He hit a deep three early in the game and had another basket in the paint.
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He also showed some athleticism by getting the ball at the key and then driving to the basket before scoring on a floater that kissed the backboard on its way down.
Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin thought the eight-day break between games helped Santos rest his foot and get more acclimated into the offense, but things he’s far from full strength.
“He’s continuing to get his conditioning down.,” Martin said. “He’s continuing to get his feel. I think he can post up, it was good to see him make a three point shot. I think he can score around the rim. He has good athleticism I think he’ll continue to display that. I think he’s getting there.”
As a freshman at Illinois-Chicago, Santos averaged 7.1 points and 42 rebounds per game before transferring to a junior college, where he sat out last season.
Santos admitted after the game that he wasn’t expecting to play 26 minutes last night and thought Missouri got fatigued towards the end of the first half, when Tennessee went into halftime on a 24-4 run.
“We do need to do a better job of fighting through fatigue,” Santos said. “I think our offense got pretty stagnant. We need to work on putting a full game together, a full 40 minutes.”
With Missouri thin on post options after Jeremiah Tilmon, who is prone to foul trouble, the Tigers are going to lean on Santos a lot now that he’s healthy as the team tries to make a run at a postseason tournament.
That starts with South Carolina on Saturday, which has Chris Silva, who is one of the toughest forwards in the conference. Puryear was happy to see Santos out there Tuesday and is ready to see more.
“He brings a lot to the table,” Puryear said. “He showed a little bit of it. A physical presence down low. I’m looking forward to having more of him on the floor.”