There was a point in the first half in Missouri’s 68-50 victory over SIU Edwardsville that it needed a couple players to step up to help gain some sort of momentum.
Two days after having one of their worst offensive performances in the short history of the Dennis Gates era resulting in a 70-55 loss to Memphis, the Tigers found itself going back-and-forth with a SIUE team coming off a near 20-point loss to Dayton almost seven days ago.
The Cougars’ Ray’Shawn Taylor tied the game at 21 on a pair from the charity stripe following the under eight timeout, but that was followed by Sean East II putting his foot on the throttle to get some juice in the Tigers that ultimately helped make the difference in a 18-point win.
East, the heart and soul for this Missouri team so far this season, put the Tigers back in front, and on the home team’s next trip down cut to the basket extending the lead to four.
The assist came on a beautiful pass from true freshman Anthony Robinson II, appearing in just his third game at the collegiate level. Robinson, while not logging a single field goal and finishing with five points from the line, looked as if he belonged on the court, which justified the 19 minutes allocated to him by Dennis Gates, as he racked up a team high five assists.
“I love Anthony Robinson,” East said. “He’s willing to learn always and always asking questions, but he just brings a spark every time he’s in the game.”
He was active on both ends of the floor as the 6-foot-2 freshman was key in drawing early fouls as the Cougars committed nine through the first 20 minutes of play. Defensively, he showed signs of relentlessness by tipping a Taylor 3-pointer and collecting one of his two blocks, which then spiraled into a shot clock violation. Robinson jubilantly jumped in the air after a key defensive stop in the second half.
“He just always brings good energy and executes coach’s directions well, and as a freshman that’s good,” East said. “He’s always just ready to do whatever coach and we say to him and he’s just happy to be out there.”
The dedication throughout the summer and him being brought up by his former high school coach and former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward has helped Robinson into seeing plenty of action throughout his early career, often producing positive results.
“He’s a competitor by nature,” Gates said. “He wants to do right, but more importantly he’s almost a 4.0 student and when you have a complete kid like that in your program, his actions speaks louder than his words.”
Back to East, with Missouri up five with under five to go, he capitalized through transition offense by flying past Wright, Brian Taylor — and probably even the Flash and Superman — for a tough left-handed finish at the cup giving the Tigers a seven-point lead, which of course followed a 3-pointer by himself.
Nick Honor, Noah Carter and Robinson all played part in making sure the Tigers went into the locker room with a 38-31 halftime lead. Missouri, much like any Power Six team, continued to pour it on the Cougars, allowing the Tigers to run away in the second half. It was kickstarted with a Caleb Grill 3-pointer off a rocket pass from East. Defensively in the second half, Mizzou held SIUE to just 19 points on 12.5% shooting from the field.
“We were able to play possession by possession,” Gates said. “We wanted to be disciplined and not foul. We had 16 straight stops meaning, they missed 16 straight shots and that was crucial.”
East, along with his team high 20 points on six of eight shooting, collected two assists and a steal. The Louisville native had just one 20-point game during the 2022-23 season, and now he’s doubled that number three games into the 2023-24 campaign. His leadership was present as he was yelling for guys to shoot, a common phrase used by Gates.
“I thought he led us emotionally. He coached in the game,” Gates said. He later mentioned a specific instance where East directed Noah Carter into making a 3-pointer in the game. “You got to have guys like that confident enough to have that conversation.”
Gates compared East stepping into the role Tre Gomillion filled last season as being the coach on the court. For East, he’s still trying to adjust to an expanded role.
“I’m still figuring everything out. It’s three games in,” East said. “It’s a long season...we just take it game-by-game and you know roles are going to change and things are going to be different and whatever the game required us to do is what we’re going to try and do.”
Missouri improved to 2-1, bouncing back from its loss to Memphis on Friday. Replacing Jesus Carralero Martin in the starting lineup was Colorado State transfer John Tonje, who quickly made an immediate impact by knocking down a pair of free throws, before splashing home a 3-pointer, giving Mizzou an early lead.
“He’s doing a great job,” Gates said. “I love John Tonje’s spirit. He’s an unselfish young man. He’s always is talking, communicating and smiling. He’s not an energy vampire; he’s a great dude.”
Sloppy play and the turnover bug found the Tigers down early, and luckily, the birthday boy Carter complemented his size, collecting 10 rebounds by utilizing his ability to shoot.
Trailing by three early, Carter knocked down a 3-pointer, tying the game at 12. This was only the beginning as Carter proceeded to catch the hot hand of Clarence Gilbert.
Following a Robinson II steal, Carter proceeded to bury his second 3-pointer followed by a third 32 seconds later, putting Mizzou up 18-14. Carter finished the night with 15 points, the second most by a Tiger.
“Sean and I, fifth year guys, this isn’t our first rodeo,” Carter said. “So you know, being able to kind of be going into the season you kind of get a flow to really understand the team. I’m very happy with what’s going on and really looking towards the future and, you know, looking forward to keep conitnuing to grow and continuing to be better.”
To go along with his double-double, Carter collected three blocks. Between Carter, Robinson, Tonje and even Jordan Butler, the team racked up eight blocks on the night.
Like Robinson, Butler appeared confident in his game, as he collected three rebounds.
“Jordan Butler earned everything that he’s received,” Gates said. “And, it hadn’t been easy for him. He was just at prom a couple months ago, and the speed of the game is different. His background is a little bit different, and it takes guys of his size a little bit different than an Ant Robinson or even a Trent Pierce, but his spirit and his heart has been in the right place in his development process.”
Missouri will return to the court on Thursday, but not at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers will head north to historic Williams Arena to face the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. The Ben Johnson-led Gophers are 2-0 following 20 and 26-point victories over Bethune-Cookman and UTSA. They are set to face off at 8 pm on the Big 10 Network.