At this point of the young season, any win looks good, as it counts as the first step toward success on the long run that is the season.
Missouri's offensive efforts against Brown on Monday night certainly were not impressive, but the Tigers still ended up with the result they were looking for. After needing a late rally to hold a one-point halftime lead, Missouri extended its margin to as many as 11 points in the second half and coasted to a 68-60 win.
While the win itself may look good, the numbers behind the win certainly do not. The Tigers struggled from the field in the first half, shooting 39 percent, but were even worse in the second, hitting 30 percent. Missouri finished 23-of-66 on the evening, a 35 percent average that varies sharply from its impressive efforts during the exhibition season.
While the shooting did not improve much in the second half, the defense did; Brown shot just 30 percent after the break after hitting 50 percent in the first half. Sophomore guard Thomas Gardner said the Tigers focused on defense in the second half to try to spark a dormant offense.
"The first half was tough for all of us," Gardner said. "Our shots weren't really falling, so we tried to pick it up on defense in the second half and try to bring energy, something we can control."
Gardner himself rebounded after a dreadful start from the field; he missed his first five three-pointers but rallied to make three of his last 10, propelling him to 19 points, leading all scorers.
Gardner said he never felt any hesitation after his shots did not fall early.
"Not at all," he said. "My teammates have confidence in me, I have confidence in myself. If I'm open, I'm gonna take the shot, regardless."
Zoned in: Sophomore forward Linas Kleiza, like all of the Tigers, was largely ineffective against Brown's 2-3 zone defense, a look that flustered Missouri much of last season. He made just 7-of-18 shots and finished with 17 points.
Coach Quin Snyder said the Tigers do not practice against the zone often, accounting for their flustered look when attempting to operate against it early.
"I thought the zone had us on our heels the first half in particular," he said. "We did a better job attacking it with our guards off the dribble (in the second half). Tonight's one of those games where you're not shooting it well and the defense becomes even more important."
Kleiza said the game was a quality first test, which the Tigers appeared to pass.
"We just had a tough shooting night," he said. "I'm just looking forward to going into tomorrow and knocking some shots down."
As for what kind of defense he prefers to face, Kleiza declined to give any juicy tidbits away.
"I don't care; whatever they throw at us, we're gonna play against," he said. "I'm definitely not gonna tell you. I'm not gonna give my secrets away."
Ferg takes a seat: After missing all of last season stuck in his native Canada, junior center Jeffrey Ferguson will have to wait a little while longer to return to the court.
Team officials announced before the game that Ferguson would serve a three-game suspension after participating in an "unsanctioned summer league earlier this year." Ferguson will return after the Davidson contest, either in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic or, if the Tigers do not advance, against Murray State on Nov. 28.
Ferguson's absence left the Tigers exposed in the post. Already lacking many big men with experience, Kevin Young's foul trouble forced the Tigers to use freshmen Marshall Brown and Kalen Grimes for extended stretches. The pair combined for eight points in 25 minutes, including a nice turn-around hook shot for two by Grimes.
Guardians Update: One down, three to go, with a brief interlude, of course.
In a brief bracket spanning two days, Missouri faced its first Guardians test Monday, topping Brown. The Tigers advance to face Houston, which rallied late to knock off Sam Houston State, Tuesday evening. A win advances them to the semifinals in Kansas City next week.
It's a Final Four in Missouri, but not the one the Tigers are aiming for. Still, the structure of this tournament gives Missouri a brief taste of things to come.
"We've looked at this as a four-team tournament," Snyder said. "There's a winner coming out of this site and we obviously want to be the winner."
The quick turnaround is nothing new to Kleiza, who has extensive experience in these situations in the many international events he has participated in.
"I'm used to it," he said. "The world championship, you play like five days in a row. It's a lot of fun."
Threes ain't free: After lighting it up from outside during the exhibition season, the shots were not falling against the Bears. Missouri managed just 3-of-13 in the first half and improved only slightly in the second period, making 4-of-13 attempts. Gardner had the most difficult night, hitting 3-of-10 attempts.
"I don't know that we took a lot of bad shots tonight from three," Snyder said. "We only shot five more than them, so I don't think we were just jacking it."
Still, managing a win when the shots were not falling symbolized a team confidence boost to Gardner.
"That was real important for us today," he said. "We really showed our character, did a good job and really came out and played."
Trouble on the glass: Brown's zone and reliance on the outside shot (they made 11-of-21 from 3) had another effect on the stat sheet: the Tigers struggled to control rebounds, trailing the Bears by eight at halftime before surging to trail by just one at the game's conclusion.
Ironically, Gardner had a fantastic day in this respect, gathering 12 rebounds to give him the first double-double of his career.
"Coach Q has been really getting on the wings about going in and getting rebounds and helping the team out," Gardner said. "That's one of my focuses every game, to get some boards for my team."
Conversely, the Tiger bigs, with the exception of Kleiza, only managed a few rebounds. Young, Brown, Grimes and freshman Glen Dandridge combined for six in 47 minutes.
Snyder did not seem overly concerned with the rebounding margin.
"You have to look at possessions," he said. "They turned the ball over 22 times, (so) we had a lot more attempts for them to defensive rebound. We did a better job of being quicker to the ball and going and getting them in the second half."
Mike's musings: Ferguson's loss will hurt, for the short-term. Although not a dominant presence inside, Ferguson at least has more experience than the freshman bigs. Fortunately, for the Tigers, he will return before they face an opponent with a strong interior game. … Many of the Tigers look very average when their shots are not falling. Senior swingman Jason Conley was strong defensively but could not get his shot working against Brown; after fighting through first-half foul troubles, he finished with five points on 1-of-6 shooting.
The Missouri-Brown contest followed an equally ugly Houston-Sam Houston State game. In 400 minutes of play, the four teams combined for 58 turnovers. There was little flow, and the referees, who called ticky-tack fouls in both contests, didn't help much. … Prediction review: I projected a comfortable 78-53 win for the Tigers, but that was not to be. The Bears showed impressive outside accuracy and were able to hang with the flustered Tigers for most of the game. Brown's radio play-by-play announcer projected a 30- or 40-point Missouri win before the contest, so I guess I wasn't totally off base. Still, expect my uneducated guess on the outcome to be slightly tighter against Houston.