A sold-out crowd at Mizzou Arena on Friday night went - finally! - to see the Michael Porter, Jr. and Co. show make its first rounds in Columbia vs. a rebuilding Iowa State team.
After about two minutes, the main attraction’s night was done. He obtained a hip injury in warmups and sat out the rest of the game as a precaution, icing the area while cheering on his teammates in his warmups on the bench.
And boy, did his teammates give the crowd something to cheer about.
The Tigers dominated on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes and almost made all of us forget that a certain heralded freshman wasn’t even on the floor for most of it, and made Mizzou Arena rocking for the first time in a long time.
So, who showed out for the Tigers? It’s time to give out player grades!
Reed Nikko (One block in five minutes)
Much like his first appearance under Coach Martin in the scrimmage last month vs. Kansas, Nikko didn’t offer much of an impact in limited time. He also didn’t really need to, as other Mizzou players with length did their jobs just fine without him. He did have a nice rejection of a Nick Weiler-Babb jumper in the first half, though.
Blake Harris (Two points, two assists, three rebounds, one steal)
The starting point guard for the Kansas game was relegated to the bench after Martin named Kassius Robertson the starting ball-handler in mid-week. In terms of the new competition for the backup point guard slot, Harris did fine, but likely didn’t put up a strong enough performance to solidify a role for him anytime soon. He does best in transition and looks comfortable going fast, which will likely make for some thrilling fast-breaks throughout the season (especially when Porter, Jr. gets back).
Terrence Phillips (Three points, one rebound)
The guy that I thought would be the catalyst for this season played nine minutes and has, in successive games, seen his former starting spot at point guard passed up for a freshman and a guy who has never played the position before. Shows how much I know. Anyway, TP did his job and was still rock-solid defensively, but half-court offense - as with most of Missouri’s point guards on Friday - seemed to stall with him up top. Of course, when you hit shots as well as the Tigers did, it doesn’t really matter.
Jontay Porter (Five points, four rebounds, three assists)
The other half of the Porter Bros. was healthy and well Friday, and looks to be a hell of a presence inside defensively. With him and Jeremiah Tilmon on the floor at the same time, opposing bigs will find it difficult to get a clean look. Though what Porter brings to the table offensively remains to be seen. The 17 year-old (he turns 18 on Wednesday) looks to be an unpolished stretch-four or five; it felt that with Missouri’s massive size advantage over Iowa State, there were situations where he leaked to the three-point line when he didn’t need to. There’s definitely room to grow for Jontay, it will just take a little bit.
Jordan Geist (Five points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal)
Well, well, well, none of expected Geist to be arguably the Tigers’ strongest ball-handler Friday night, did we? Geist played 24 minutes, only turned the ball over once, was a defensive pest who won 50-50 balls, and was trusted to both dish and score when needed. Martin seems to have found a place for the junior when most of us saw him as an afterthought within the revamped Missouri roster. Mizzou’s coaching staff loves him for the same reasons that opposing players hate him - he goes hard, is in your face and loves every minute of it.
Kevin Puryear (17 points, eight rebounds, three steals)
I remarked in the Kansas edition of player grades that Kevin Puryear looked disappointing despite his leaner, meaner frame, and I wondered as an undersized big man what Martin would make out of his role going into the regular season. I wonder no more. Martin’s new system has benefitted Puryear tremendously, and it’s very likely the junior will transform into a dangerous sixth man. Six of seven from the floor and eight boards is nothing to scoff at off the bench. Five turnovers is a little concerning, but when you combat that by leading the team in scoring and helping hold Iowa State to under 0.9 points per possession, a couple miscues along the way will be just fine.
Michael Porter, Jr. (Two points, two rebounds)
It’s not fair to give Porter, Jr. a grade due to his small sample size against Iowa State. But it is fun to imagine how he implements into the system when his supporting cast plays as well as they did. In a game where the Tigers dominated the rebounding battle and formed a deadly inside presence, the addition of MPJ into the fray would make Missouri’s opponents’ problems defending it even larger. It is a shame, however, that Porter, Jr. wasn’t able to have another game against a Power 5 conference opponent (in a much less hostile environment) to help him adjust to the speed of the college game this early in the season, as against Kansas it was a thing he looked to struggle with at times. A talent as legit as him, however, should have no problem figuring out what to do eventually, and as his hip injury doesn’t look serious at the moment, we’ll see his progression occur sooner than later.
I don't envy Cuonzo Martin - it's going to be tough to integrate a player like MPJ into an otherwise fluid and dominant team like Missouri. Where will he find the minutes?— Osᴄᴀʀ Gᴀᴍʙʟᴇ (@OscarGambler) November 11, 2017
Cullen VanLeer (Two steals, one assist)
A great night from the rest of Missouri’s non-MPJ supporting cast offset a rather underwhelming night from VanLeer, a man few tipped to be the starting two guard entering Friday. Kudos to Martin, however, for seeming to improve CVL’s perimeter defense, where last year the Pacific, Mo., product struggled often. But if Mizzou is to be a team that gets up and down the floor and pours points on teams, what is VanLeer’s purpose as a starter if he doesn’t have a hot shooting night? If you’re not using him as a three-and-D guy, what are you using him as? It worked Friday night, but if this lineup continues all the way up until Mizzou hits conference play, it makes you wonder what exactly VanLeer brings to the table.
Jordan Barnett (15 points, three assists, three rebounds, one block)
A player who looks like he fits the mold of a three-and-D guy a little more? Jordan Barnett. After Martin criticized Barnett’s defensive intensity in the press conference following the Kansas scrimmage, the senior out of St. Louis was rock solid in and around the perimeter for most of the game. Barnett went three of seven from deep, spearheading a revitalized Mizzou offense that looks to be not just improved from three-point range, but thriving. He also showcased his athleticism with a couple of dunks and looked to thrive in the electric atmosphere. Barnett will be a critical piece of the puzzle for the Tigers for the games to come.
Kassius Robertson (11 points, five rebounds, two assists)
Was the experiment of throwing Robertson in the much-scrutinized point guard role (despite Robertson stating he’s never played the position competitively in his life before Friday) a success? Well, meh. Robertson lit it up offensively against Kansas in a two-guard role, but against Iowa State with the ball in his hands, he looked less fit to be a distributor. He was second on the team with three turnovers (albeit in 34 minutes played), and point guard duties were often handed to subs such as Geist and Harris when they shared a floor with the Canisius transfer. However, it’s scary to think that even with how well Missouri looks shooting the ball, Robertson had an off night doing so: just three of 12 from the field, two of six from deep. The rout of Iowa State is far from the highest potential that the Tigers - and Robertson - can reach if everything and everyone is clicking.
Jeremiah Tilmon (14 points, seven rebounds, one block, one assist)
Folks, we are gonna love Jeremiah Tilmon. No player on either side dominated in the paint as much as the freshman East St. Louis product, and he proved that his stellar performance against Kansas wasn’t a fluke. Missouri had the size advantage against the Cyclones and Tilmon was the leader in ensuring the Tigers played like they had one. His smooth footwork and poise around the basket, going seven of nine, is something that is increasingly rare in college big men, especially ones who are just 18 years old. And best of all? Tilmon did all of it without having to worry about foul trouble. Against Kansas, where he obtained seven fouls in 13 minutes (yikes), Tilmon stayed disciplined and only picked up three in 25. He stayed disciplined and contested shots with his hands up, and was the key piece for the stellar paint defense the Tigers had Friday night. Tilmon was an incredible recruiting pickup for Martin, bar none, and he has the potential to be a really, really special player.