Year two of the Dennis Gates era of Missouri men’s basketball started off the right way as the Tigers defeated Arkansas Pine-Bluff 101-79 in front of a newly renovated Mizzou Arena on Monday night.
At first, it wasn’t the prettiest opener at first for the Tigers or Golden Lions as both teams combined for 27 fouls and 12 turnovers and Gates wasn’t too pleased with the fouls given up. But it was the Tigers’ deep roster, even without Connor Vanover and John Tonje, that overpowered the Golden Lions, leading to a 22-point victory and moving to 24-0 over teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Missouri entered the 2023-24 campaign with 11 new faces and questions on who would step up to replace names such as D’Moi Hodge, Kobe Brown, and DeAndre Gholston. But the Tigers roster possesses plenty of Division I playing experience and coming into Monday’s matchup the roster featured 998 games at the D1 level, with 466 games started between the team’s 18-man squad.
It paid dividends as the newcomers and returnees all made sizable impacts. Five Tigers recorded double-digit scoring totals as the team shot 56% from the field and 40% from behind the arc, a 3-point percentage Gates will take any day of the week.
2nd time in Mizzou history with 5 players scoring 15+ points (1st was 2012 Big 12 Championship Game vs. Baylor, English 19/Dixon 17/Denmon 15/Ratliffe 15/P.Pressey 15)— Tom Orf (@MU4124) November 7, 2023
Mizzou was led by Sean East II’s 21 points, matching his last 20-point performance last year against Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 4.
“I’ve put in a lot of work in shot over the past two years, really my whole life,” East said. “It was going well tonight, you know what I’m saying, and we’ll stay in the gym and you know, try to keep it up.”
Two players didn’t reach the double-digit scoring, but their defensive presence raised some eyebrows.
Missouri pulled away for good towards the end of the first half, and the Tigers leading 49-38 with under three minutes to play, Tamar Bates, the Indiana transfer, made his statement coming off the bench.
The Tigers proceeded to end the first half on a 10-2 run, carrying a 17-point lead into the locker room, with Bates, the Kansas City, Kansas native, notching all 10 points as he knocked down a 3-pointer to go along with another three-point play and a layup.
“Coach always emphasizes guys coming off the bench being a spark,” Bates said. “And I just felt a sense in that point of the game where they were getting a lot of free throws and getting a lot closer. I just took advantage of my matchups, and my teammates got me the ball when I was open, and I just let the game come to me.”
Bates went onto finish with 18 points on seven of nine shooting, including a perfect three of three from behind the arc.
“He started to play how he played in high school with his instincts,” Gates said. “When he’s played with his instincts and he’s not thinking, he’s at his best.”
He wouldn’t be the only member of the transfer class to contribute to the Tigers victory.
As expected, Nick Honor, Noah Carter, and East, three captains Gates appointed before the season, started.
“They’ve earned the right through their experience to be starters on our team,” Gates said. “Our team revolves around those three, but they are so selfish that they will take a step back and allow someone else to be able to lead. They’ll always find the hot hand even if it’s not theirs.”
But the intrigue came as the question was who would fill in the other two spots, which ended up being Caleb Grill and Jesus Carralero Martin.
The returning big three (Carter, East, and Honor) tallied the Tigers’ first 12 points. Carter and Honor ended up combining for 33 points, but the surprising standout early was the effort displayed by Martin, despite picking up three early fouls and no points through the first 20 minutes of play.
His defensive presence and effort showed as he shut down an early Golden Lions possession in the paint, while also blocking Arkansas Pine-Bluff’s Rashad Williams on the next possession, adding fuel to the Tigers fast start.
Coming from Campbell, Martin was the only player to rank in the top 10 in the Big South in assists, blocks, rebounds, and steals, and to no surprise, he led the Tigers early on with four assists, a block and a steal. This was added with a beautiful pass to Noah Carter underneath the basket to put the Tigers up 25-16.
Grill re-extended the lead back to double-digits, knocking down his first 3-pointer of the year, after shooting 36.8% from behind the arc last season at Iowa State. The former Cyclone and UNLV Runnin’ Rebel joined the Tigers’ double-digit scoring club with 15 points to go along with seven rebounds.
The Tigers were able to maintain a huge lead in the second half in part due to limiting the Golden Lions’ 3-point shooting to just five 3-pointers over the final 20 minutes of play. Seven of eight of Arkansas Pine-Bluffs made 3’s came from Kylen Milton and Joe French, who combined for 64 points.
With the Tigers building such a commanding lead, it allowed them to give a look at the roster’s youth as Aidan Shaw logged 17 minutes, while all three highly touted recruits, Anthony Robinson II, Trent Pierce and Jordan Butler, logged meaningful minutes.
On Friday, Gates spoke about how much Shaw grew throughout the offseason in his confidence and strength, which was exhibited against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Shaw’s size greatly impacted the defensive department as he recorded five blocks while snagging seven of his nine rebounds on the defensive end, equaling all personal highs for the ascending sophomore from Overland Park, Kansas.
“That’s the challenge that I’ve been fighting with him for the entire offseason,” Gates said. “He knows if you don’t rebound you don’t play.”
In all, Missouri took commanding control of the rebounding battle against the Golden Lions by a 38-29 margin, another positive considering that it was an issue that plagued the Tigers all last season, including the non-conference schedule against foes not among the Power Six. To make it more impressive, only one of the Tigers’ 7-footers appeared (Butler).
“The rim protection that we were provided from Aidan Shaw, Jordan Butler, also being able to get in there and change some shots (and) Trent Pierce. Those are key takeaways,” Gates said.
Butler, the freshman from Greenville, South Carolina put the Tigers over the 100-point mark with a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.
Missouri improves to an all-time record of 97-21 in season openers, including an 82-9 record in Columbia. Gates’ squad will return to Mizzou Arena on Friday as Memphis comes to Columbia. Memphis defeated Jackson State 94-77 in its first game of the 2023-24 season. The game will be televised on the SEC Network at 8 pm.