The victory wasn’t always pretty, but the Missouri Tigers squeezed by Division II Central Missouri in their first and final basketball exhibition game of the season. While it was a close affair — especially at halftime — the Tigers pulled away for the 80-56 win.
The Mules were up 32-31 at halftime, causing some fans to squirm a bit at Mizzou Arena. However, a 7-0 run from guard Javon Pickett early in the second half sparked the Tigers to a lead as they took care of business down the stretch.
MU coach Cuonzo Martin’s team struggled, but had it lost, it would’ve been a non-factor in the standings as it was a glorified public scrimmage. Losing to a Division II team, however, wouldn’t be how you want to start off the season.
Results start to count the next time the Tigers take the court. They host Incarnate Word at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6 to tip off the regular season.
“The biggest thing is in the second half was just being aggressive, being assertive,” Martin said. “We settled for some threes, but I thought we were more aggressive. Which really kind of opened things up.”
Here are five takeaways from Mizzou’s win against Central Missouri:
Lots of subs, mixes on the court. While Martin stuck with his starters for the opening few minutes, he brought in a number of players off his bench. The coach mingled his starters in with some bench players, resulting in 13 different players recording minutes in the exhibition opener, though some were walk-ons at the end of the game. The starters were Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon, Kobe Brown and Pickett. Martin stuck with the same crew to also begin the second half.
Freshman gets the start, but not who you think. While some theorized Tray Jackson might earn a starting spot for Mizzou, it was Brown who started the game against Central Missouri. On the pregame radio show, Martin said Brown had impressed in practice, thus the starting nod. Brown played well, hitting his first three shots on the court, two of those from three-point land. He finished with 12 points to lead the Tigers. The 6-foot-7 forward had his moments, flashing some athleticism at the forward position. The freshman also shot the ball a lot from behind the arc, eight of his nine field goal attempts were three-point shots. “I was definitely nervous being a freshman, but it kind of went away really fast,” Brown said of the start. “Just realized I have to do it because coach believes in me.”
Scoring drought, turnover-happy to start. A bulk of Mizzou’s uneasiness came when it couldn’t hit shots in the first half. A 5 minute, 24 second scoring drought allowed the Mules to stock up on points, eventually taking the lead before halftime. The Tigers also were sloppy with the ball to begin before eventually securing the ball more down the stretch. They finished with 13 turnovers, just two coming in the second half. It wasn’t the greatest offensive showing for Mizzou, but they scored 49 points in the second half to win comfortably. “Just settling in, for some guys, don’t try to be a playmaker, make the right play,” Martin said of the turnovers. “That’s the most important thing.”
Bringing up the ball. Depending on who was on the floor and when, it looked to be a mix of Pinson and Dru Smith who initiated the offense and brought the ball up the floor. Smith, the transfer from Evansville, had a nice game, contributing eight points, seven assists and six steals. He also had a few nice passes that found their mark, though it went awry at times for three turnovers. Pinson was also in the mix. The sophomore played a larger role due to injuries last year, another important piece of depth for the Tigers. “I was definitely a little nervous, a little excited,” Dru Smith said. “I was able to settle in the second half and just play more to how I should.”
Defense still prevails. Just as one can expect from a Martin-led team, the defense remained stout for the Tigers. Central Missouri had extended scoring droughts often throughout the game as Mizzou upped the pressure at times. The Mules stuck around the game off the help of their red-hot three-point shooting, finishing 12 of 25 from behind the arc. But otherwise, the Tigers defense played well in allowing 56 points, the Mules scoring just 10 points inside the paint.