Missouri’s new combo from Cleveland paced a victory Sunday in the first exhibition game of a 10-day international tour in Italy.
Freshman forward Willie Jackson and freshman shooting guard Frankie Hughes, who played and graduated together at Garfield Heights High, each pumped in a team-high 18 points as the Tigers fended off LCC International University from Lithuania 80-68 in Rome.
“In high school, they called us the dynamic duo,” Hughes said earlier this summer. “We are just trying to bring that here and make this program successful, make it better.”
Jackson expressed confidence earlier this summer that having a teammate with him at Mizzou would ease his transition into the college ranks — as apparently it did Sunday.
“It’s helped a lot,” Jackson said before the Italy trip. “When you’ve got somebody that knows you and knows what you’re capable of and knows how to push you in a certain type of way, it’s such a big help. Coaches can only push you so far, but when you’ve got that person you grew up with for a long time and really knows how to push you, you don’t have any choice but to be successful at what you do. It’s been fun.”
Jackson was 8 of 11 from the field and also added seven rebounds against LCC International, while Hughes was 4 of 8 from three-point range.
Sophomore guard K.J. Walton added 10 points, while sophomore Terrence Phillips led Mizzou in rebounds (eight), assists (four) and steals (four). Phillips also had a team-high five turnovers.
Senior Russell Woods and sophomore Kevin Puryear each grabbed six boards, while Puryear and sophomore guard Jordan Geist each scored seven.
The Tigers shot 54.3 percent in the first half, going 19 of 35, but cooled off to 27.8 percent in the second half, going 10 of 36.
Obviously, the win against LCC International doesn’t count in any meaningful standings, but merely tasting victory is critical for a program that has a .302 winning percentage the last two seasons, including a .500 nonconference record and .167 win percentage in SEC action.
“It made me want to come in and give 100 percent every time, because I know what those guys have been through,” Jackson said.
The performance was especially encouraging from Hughes, who is likely to be asked to provide scoring punch for a Tigers offense that ranked 262nd in scoring offense at 68.6 points per game last season and 182nd in KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric.
“The coaching staff believes in me a lot and wants me to come in at score the ball right away,” Hughes said. “I’m not necessarily going to say I’m the go-to guy, but, if they need something from me, I’m willing to step up and be that guy.”
Missouri plays BC Silute, another Lithuanian team, at 11:30 a.m. Central time Tuesday near Florence, battles local club Vicenza Select at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Venice and wraps up its tour with a game against the Kosovo National Team at 11:30 a.m. Saturday near Milan.