After a hot start that included the Tigers scoring 17 of the game's first 18 points, Missouri cruised to a 100-73 win against Division II Central Missouri State on Thursday. Although the Tigers gave up 50 points and were outscored in the second half, coach Quin Snyder was pleased with the outcome.
"It was a great game for us," he said. "We were more physical than them and I thought we started the game the right way."
The Tigers were dominant in the opening minutes, as the starters outperformed the overmatched Mules on both ends of the court. CMSU was incredibly sloppy early, committing six turnovers in their first six possessions. Six minutes into the game, the Tigers were on pace for a 113-7 win.
They slowed down a bit afterward but still cruised to an easy win.
"I was pleased with how we guarded for about 24 minutes," Snyder said, "and I thought we really did a great job of sharing the ball."
Sophomore forward Linas Kleiza led the Tigers with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, and four assists in 19 minutes. Senior swingman Jason Conley had a quiet 14 points, six rebounds and four assists, while junior guard Jimmy McKinney came off the bench to score 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
"Jimmy was terrific tonight," Snyder said. "Jimmy's our captain. We're not concerned with who's starting. I was really happy with how he guarded."
Snyder wasn't as pleased about the defense in the second half, as the Tigers' intensity dropped and the Mules heated up from the outside. After making just 2-of-12 shots from 3 in the first half, the Mules hit 8-of-17 in the final 20 minutes. They were keyed by Michael Hicks, who had a game-high 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
"For us to play a team that competed like that for the whole game, it was great," Snyder said. "It showed, when we let up a little bit defensively, they started making shots."
McKinney said he felt comfortable on the shiny new floor of the Paige Sports Arena, especially since he only played point guard for a few minutes in the first half. The rest of the time, he played off the ball and found success shooting from the outside.
"I was just out there playing, I was having fun, I was smiling, I was cracking jokes," McKinney said. "That's the way I'll play now, when I'm not running the point or when I'm running the point. Just thinking back to my high school days and go out there and play hard every night."
Lineup shake-up: The Tigers' projected starting five included sophomore point guard Spencer Laurie and McKinney, but Snyder went in a different direction. The starters were junior Kevin Young at center, Kleiza at forward, and Conley, sophomore Thomas Gardner and freshman Jason Horton at guard.
"We're still evaluating and we'll see where that goes," Snyder said. "When you're playing multiple players, the advantage should be that everybody's got energy. Some of those guys that aren't playing maybe as much, they can still let down a little bit."
That shouldn't be a problem this exhibition season. Snyder spread the playing time around well, giving everybody but walk-on guard Brian Dailey at least 12 minutes. Dailey played the game's final two minutes, airballing a three-pointer that would have put the Tigers over 100 points.
Fab freshmen: The Tigers' freshman foursome -- Horton, swingmen Marshall Brown and Glen Dandridge and forward Kalen Grimes -- already has a nickname.
"The Four Horsemen, that's what they call us," Grimes said.
They combined for 27 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists in 68 minutes against the Mules. Statistically, Grimes had the best night, totaling nine points, three rebounds and a block.
"I think we played well," Grimes said. "Good experience. I'm happy with my freshman class and I think we'll be fine."
Horton faces the most pressure, as he'll likely be expected to run the offense as the starting point guard. Horton was inconsistent Thursday but dished out five assists to two turnovers. Both Horton and Laurie were hit with five-second violations but consistently showed more speed and vision than the CMSU defenders, as would be expected.
"I was really pleased with Jason's play," Snyder said. "I thought Glen made some plays on the offensive glass…
"It was a good first night out for all of us. I watched them all play defense and make mistakes, too. We gave up too many open looks, particularly when three of those four were in the game together."
Getting physical: Brown and CMSU forward Mike Suggs were hit with flagrant fouls and ejected after the two tangled while fighting for a loose ball with 4:05 left in the game. While both players lay prostrate, Suggs appeared to throw a punch (or an elbow), which Brown returned in kind, earning both players an early trip to the showers.
"It's competition," Snyder said. "It's one of those things that happen in football and no one even mentions it. I don't think it was a big deal."
Brown had fared well before the abrupt end of his night; he finished with eight points and six rebounds in 17 minutes.
Watkins will sit: Even after he received a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play for the Tigers immediately, junior guard Marcus Watkins will redshirt this season, he confirmed Thursday.
Watkins was projected to be a depth player at the off-guard position, but with a handful of players, most notably Gardner and McKinney, in front of him, the coaching staff chose to sit Watkins for the season.
The move is a curious one, considering the number of scholarships the Tigers will be able to offer in the coming season. With Watkins sitting out essentially becoming a sophomore, and assuming no players leave early or transfer in, the Tigers will only be able to offer three scholarships for the 2006-07 season. With just one senior this year (Conley), the Tigers will only have four scholarships to offer over the next two seasons.
Moving on: A selection of quotes from the Tigers regarding the end of the NCAA investigation:
Kleiza: "It was never a concern for me. I'm just happy it's behind us now and we can fully concentrate on basketball."
Gardner: "It was never really a problem for me. Right now, we're turning a new page. We're always glad for it to be over, but right now we're really looking forward to our season and getting better as a team."
Grimes, on if the investigation created any doubt in him about coming to Missouri: "Not at all. I've been growing up watching Mizzou and I knew from Day One this was the school I was gonna come to."
McKinney: "I'm happy that (we have) closure. We're just gonna leave that behind us and we're gonna move forward."
Mike's musings: The second half was distressing; the Tigers shouldn't give up 50 points in a half to anyone, let alone a Division II school. Missouri has plenty of speed and athleticism, but that might not translate to the defensive end. Certainly something to keep an eye on. ... I was impressed with Grimes. There were rumors about him being out of shape at Hazelwood Central, but he looked good to me. Grimes showed a nice array of low-post moves and a nice touch around the rim. If he stays out of foul trouble, he could be a significant contributor.
I'm a big McKinney fan, because he's an emotional player and a St. Louis native like myself. There are many criticisms you can make about his game, but it is clear why he is a team captain. Coming off the bench and contributing like he did Thursday tells you a lot about him. ... Junior center Jeffrey Ferguson showed decent touch from the outside, even hitting a three-pointer in the first half. He rallied late in the game to reach double digits, scoring 11 points and adding three rebounds. It should be interesting to see how the position shapes up as we approach the regular season. Although Snyder seems to be leaning toward Young, I'm projecting Ferg will beat him out eventually.
Gardner fought through foul trouble, picking up three in the first half and a fourth early in the second. He is a decent on-ball defender but needs to watch his hands when opponents drive on him. ... Kleiza is 10 pounds thinner this season and seems more mobile on the floor. He will be expected to shoulder the load down low, although he will likely jack up his share of three-pointers, which is fine, as long as they're falling. ... Former Tiger Pat Schumacher was injured on the opening tip and did not return, which greatly limited the Mules inside. Schumacher is the Mules' top returning scorer and CMSU had nobody else with a Division I-caliber body to slow the Tigers down low.