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Missouri struggles early, defeats Miami (Ohio) 70-51

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The Tigers overcame a sluggish start and kicked off their four-game home stand with a win.

NCAA Basketball: Miami (OH) at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Harris poked the ball away from Jake Wright and dropped to the court to recover it, tripping over his own legs. Harris managed to make a pass to a teammate, but Jordan Barnett turned it right back over on the ensuing possession.

Missouri (7-2) overcame an ugly, sloppy start to defeat Miami (Ohio), 70-51. Nine of the Tigers’ 17 turnovers came in the first half alone, and they looked out of sync in their first home game since November 20.

“The team that played the hardest didn’t win the game,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. Martin felt his team lacked assertiveness and aggressiveness despite the 19-point victory. “We didn’t set a tone, it doesn’t matter who we play against. I tell our guys ‘It doesn’t matter the name of the other team, it’s how we play the game.’”

With about five minutes left in the opening period, Mizzou led the Redhawks (5-4) by only one point. Then, Barnett drained a corner 3-pointer before falling into the chairs on the sideline.

The play ignited a 14-0 run for the Tigers in which Barnett and Kassius Robertson made two triples each. Barnett scored 15 points for the game, hit five threes, and grabbed eight rebounds while Robertson added 17 points and three dimes. Kevin Puryear poured in a game-high 20 points and snagged five rebounds.

“Luckily we had Kash and JB make some really good shots down the stretch and we turned our defense up,” Puryear said. “I think they really punched us in the mouth in the first half, but I like the way we responded.”

Missouri led by 12 at halftime, but the lead should have been much larger.

Miami shot just 9-for-32 from the field and committed seven turnovers of their own in the first half. The Barnett and Robertson trey ball barrage broke the game open, but things were uncomfortably close for much of the first 20 minutes.

Robertson (five), Harris (four), Jontay Porter (four), Terrence Phillips (two) and Barnett (two) were the culprits in Mizzou’s turnover woes.

Harris started the game at point guard but was pulled just over three minutes into the game after the ball went off of his knee and out of bounds. Phillips replaced him, but was quickly benched for Harris after getting stripped at half court and throwing the ball to the Miami bench.

“Terrence Phillips, Jordan Geist, they want it just like Blake,” Martin said when asked about the starting point guard position. “Whoever earn it they get it.”

Ball handling and just flat out taking care of the ball continue to be an issue for the Tigers, who have leaned heavily on 3-point shooting to save the day. Living and dying by the three is entertaining, but it can lead to some frustrating losses like the West Virginia game and close ones like Emporia State.

“I would say most of our turnovers were careless,” Puryear said. “I think we were rushing a little bit too much and that’s one thing we really gotta fine tune and eliminate. We shouldn’t really have any unforced turnovers if we want to take that next step as a team.”

Another problem has been the lack of production from the bench, which was almost non-existent Tuesday night. The reserves scored only two points and attempted just three shots combined.

“You can score the ball or you can’t,” Martin said when asked about how the bench has performed, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. “Guys do what they do, understanding the role. That’s what it is.”

A Porter hook shot and Jeremiah Tilmon dunk sparked a 6-0 Missouri run in the second half to extend the lead to 18 points and effectively end the game.

NCAA Basketball: Miami (OH) at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A sub-plot to the contest was the appearance of Michael Porter Jr. on the bench. It was the first time that Porter Jr. has been seen with the team since his short-lived debut against Iowa State.

Porter Jr. was dribbling before the game, taking pictures with fans and interacting with his teammates. The freshman forward is clearly feeling better after undergoing back surgery on Nov. 21.

The uncertainty clouding Porter Jr.’s return may disappoint fans, but getting to see him should lift their spirits going forward.