Another slow, flat start plagued Missouri (5-4) on Tuesday night, as the Tigers took on Eastern Illinois (2-8), a team with all of zero Division I wins this season. Early turnovers and poor shooting to open the game put the Tigers in a situation where they trailed the Panthers midway through the first half.
However, two threes from Springfield Kickapoo freshman Anton Brookshire — the first of his college career — and solid defense helped the Tigers turn the tide as the first half wound down. A 5:16 scoring drought from the Panthers allowed Missouri to close the first on a 17-2 run, and the Tigers never let Eastern Illinois back into it.
Even with the relative success on the scoreboard, it was never really pretty for the Tigers, who shot just 2-19 from beyond the arc, with 13 of those shots coming in the first half. The Tigers did find some success from inside the arc, however, shooting 51% from the field, including 62% in the second half.
Despite poor outside shooting for the Tigers, Eastern Illinois couldn’t find a groove from any spot on the court. Strong Tiger defense forced the Panthers into many shots late in the shot clock, which resulted in plenty of airballs (to be fair, Mizzou had a few as well) and shot just 36% from the field.
Although not everyone was pleased with the Tigers’ defensive performance. Head Coach Cuonzo Martin still thinks the Tigers are capable of more, “It’s not bad, we still have a ways to go,” he said about his team’s defense. “I think we are at about 60% of where we’d like to be defensively.”
Four Tigers finished with double figures in the game, but strong performances from freshmen Trevon Brazile and Anton Brookshire were the biggest story tonight. Brookshire finished with 8 points and 3 assists, including a perfectly executed alley oop to DaJuan Gordon, while Brazile added 4 points, 2 rebounds, and a monster block.
“When his shot goes he’s a different player,” Martin said of Brookshire. “When he’s making shots, you have to guard us differently. It opens things up.” He also added, “It was good to see [Brazile] out there, his talent level, his length, his athleticism.”
Martin wasn’t the only one singing the praises of the young Tigers though as Gordon called Brazile the most athletic guy on the team and a “big long person.” He continued, “You’re going to see a lot of good plays from him coming up.”
Even with great freshmen performances, it was still the veterans who led the Tigers to victory. Amari Davis led Missouri with 15 points and 6 rebounds while Kobe Brown added 11 points and 11 rebounds, good enough for another double-double. DaJuan Gordon and Javon Pickett also added 14 and 10, respectively.
The only Tiger to not make an appearance in the blowout tonight was transfer G Boogie Coleman who Martin said was held out due to “just not meeting team expectations.” Martin also remained coy as to whether or not Coleman will be back for Saturday’s Border War.
With or without Coleman, it seems like Martin will have his team ready to play their rival Jayhawks on Saturday, “It’s a street fight from this point on,” he said of the Tigers’ upcoming schedule, which features no team ranked below the KenPom top 100 until March. “As a player and as a coach, I love the challenge, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”