This Missouri team needs to win some ugly games this season if it’s going to be successful. The Tigers weren’t pretty in a 68-55 season-opening win over Central Arkansas, but they got the job done.
The same can not be said for their 76-59 road loss against Iowa State.
Turnovers and fouls suffocated Missouri’s chances of winning the contest, even though the Tigers out-rebounded the Cyclones and shot OK from the field. Missouri led with as little as 3:44 to play in the first half, but a 22-5 Iowa State run that stretched five minutes into the second and staked the Cyclones to a 47-30 lead all but buried Cuonzo Martin’s squad.
Sophomore Mark Smith was probably Martin’s best player again on Friday, although he didn’t truly get going until the game was just about over. The guard scored 15 points on 5-for-12, including 3-for-8 from 3-point range. The latter stat is especially crucial considering he shot 23.2 percent from that range last season, the Tigers don’t have any proven perimeter threats and Smith also shot well from 3 against Central Arkansas. The sophomore also grabbed seven rebounds.
Senior Kevin Puryear was Missouri’s next leading scorer, albeit with just 10 points. Each of his three field goals (on five attempts) came on a brief second-half run that clipped Iowa State’s lead to 12. The Tigers cut it to 53-43 with 11 minutes to play, but that was the closest they got.
One look at the stat sheet could tell you what went wrong for Missouri in the first half: The Tigers committed 15 turnovers. Put another way, they gave the ball away on 45.5 percent of their first-half possessions. Forwards Jeremiah Tilmon, Kevin Puryear, Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith were the biggest culprits; the big men combined for 10 turnovers. Freshman point guard Xavier Pinson added three.
Despite the ball security issues, Missouri held the lead through most of the first half and was still tied with the Cyclones 25-25 with just over two minutes to go until halftime. Freshman Torrence Watson showed some flashes early, hitting a 3-pointer, a setback jumper and a runner to lead the Tigers with seven points at the half.
Fouls were the issue in the second half as Iowa State reached the double bonus before the 10-minute mark. The Cyclones attempted 35 free throws to the Tigers’ 17 overall.
No Missouri player seemed to consistently find success driving inside and creating offense or drawing contact. When they tried to penetrate the Cyclones’ interior, they turned it over. Once they committed a few turnovers, the offense grew overly cautious and ball movement stagnated, leading to very few open looks. Senior Jordan Geist (who fouled out) and freshman Xavier Pinson will be relied upon to facilitate movement going forward, but they can’t lose control of the ball in search of offense the way they did Friday. The pair combined for seven turnovers, part of the team’s total 25.
The Tigers tried to open things up on the outside by dishing the ball into Jeremiah Tilmon, but the Cyclones responded by doubling the big man, who struggled to shake the strong defense or find teammates for open looks. The sophomore finished with just five points on 1-for-4 shooting with seven rebounds and five turnovers.
Missouri isn’t as bad as it showed Friday, but the Tigers haven’t inspired a ton of confidence early in the season, either. Martin and Co. have a full week to clean up their issues between now and their next game, the Paradise Jam opener against Kennesaw State. We’ll start to learn a little more about this team from the improvement it shows on their Virgin Islands getaway next weekend.