Missouri’s thin backcourt got further dinged up Tuesday in the Tigers’ 85-76 loss at Mississippi.
Freshman guard Cullen VanLeer, who started for the third consecutive game, sat after halftime with an injury and sophomore guard Tramaine Isabell also missed a chunk of the second half.
“Cullen VanLeer’s shoulder went out of place and Tramaine got cramped up there in the second half,” Tigers coach Kim Anderson said.
That was a bad formula for a team that dismissed junior guard Wes Clark last week.
Factor in persistent foul trouble for freshman guard Terrence Phillips and sophomore guard Namon Wright, especially in the first half, and Missouri was hurting for ball-handlers.
Isabell and sophomore walk-on Jimmy Barton performed admirably despite the numbers crunch in the first half.
Phillips and Wright were limited to a combined 16 minutes, but Isabell and Barton saw the floor for 26 minutes.
Barton connected on his first basket of the season and added his first two career rebounds with the Tigers. He also had an MU career high two assists and turned it over twice.
“We’re already shorthanded, so with the foul trouble it just exposed that even more,” said Isabell, who matched his previous career high with 14 first-half points and finished with 17 points overall before fouling out. “It was tough, but I feel like our team fought hard.”
The highlight for Isabell was a drive to the bucket late in the first half when he put Rebels senior Stefan Moody on skates with a crossover dribble at the top of the key.
“I didn’t even know I did,” said Isabell, who finished that drive with a scoop-shot layup. “He told me at the free-throw line when I was asking him to miss a shot. He said he couldn’t do it, because I shook him. I don’t even remember. I was just trying to get in the lane a little bit and give him that Seattle swag.”
Isabell didn’t play for three games in late January, including one game he sat out while suspended, but he’s averaged 21 minutes and 9.5 points in the last four games.
“I lost a lot of confidence in my shot during conference play,” Isabell said. “When I was given the minutes, I told myself to stay focused on the task at hand.”
It’s made a considerable difference.
“I thought Tramaine made pretty good decisions,” Anderson said. “The thing with Tramaine that we’ve always kind of struggled with is just the balance in his game, when to shoot and when to pass. He was able to get inside and get some layups. He hit some jump shots. He made some pretty good decisions, so I was happy. It means he’s improving. We definitely needed that spark in the first half.”