(Photo by L.G. Patterson/The Associated Press)
One year ago the Missouri Tigers basketball team began their 2014-15 campaign with a 69-61 loss to UMKC. From there, the team never established a winning attitude, which led to a 9-23 record for Kim Anderson’s first year.
On Friday night versus Wofford, an NCAA Tournament team from last year, the Tigers controlled the game early on and never looked back, securing an 83-74 win. It even looked like they were having fun.
The team played unselfish and with energy, and much like in the exhibition game, the newcomers gave the team a much needed spark.
Kevin Puryear couldn’t have asked for a better start to his college career; he finished with 20 points and five rebounds. To my surprise, at least, he looked very comfortable shooting long jumpshots, which if he keeps making them will continue to open up his game.
Terrence Phillips will be a special player. He played like the Energizer Bunny, running to his man on defense, jumping over the Wofford bench to try and save a ball, and even straightened the net out on the opposite hoop during a free throw late in the game.
Cullen VanLeer took two shots, and made them both. One of which came off someone else’s miss, and he was in the right place at the right time and put the ball in hoop, drawing a foul.
Fresh off a suspension in the exhibition, Namon Wright came off the bench and dropped 18 points. He came up big late in the game after Wofford began clawing back. His three with 1:58 put the Tigers up by 10, and the game was all but sealed after that.
Missouri began the day with 12 players eligible, but only 10 got in. D’Angelo Allen did not get any playing time, though Anderson said it wasn’t a disciplinary issue, it’s just hard playing 11 guys.
A couple hours before tip-off, it was announced that Martavian Payne would take some time away from the team to focus on his grades. There are a glut of guards on the roster this year, but it was expected that Payne was going to be a big contributor as a combo guard.
Anderson’s right, it is going to be hard managing this line-up. Just about everyone did something well, and it’ll be interesting to see which situations call for which lineups down the road.
There’s no one we can point to and say, “this guy can’t play” so talent is not going to be an issue. I don’t think it was an issue last year either, I think chemistry and confidence was.
I believed that Friday’s game against Wofford was the biggest of the season. They’ve past their first test, and it’ll definitely build some confidence.
The Tigers have one more tune-up, if you will, against Maryland-Eastern Shore on Sunday. Then, they’ll travel to Xavier to take on one of their biggest challenges of the season.
It’s one game and one win, but it’s a good win. Let’s not declare this team in the NCAA Tournament yet, but credit these young guys for playing hard and having fun in their first game. There is light at the end of the tunnel for Missouri basketball, and they’ve taken the first step to that light.