Throughout the season, Missouri has lived or died with its shooting.
On Monday, a 27.9 percent performance from the field resulted in an 84-65 loss to Kansas. In their game against Oklahoma State on Saturday, the young Tigers upped that number to 52.3 percent. It is no coincidence the outcome was drastically different.
“Boy, we knocked some shots down,” coach Mike Anderson said. “But they were different kinds of shots then what took place in some of the previous games. I thought we finally brought some of our practices, especially last week’s, to the game — pushing the tempo, pushing the ball.”
Early in conference play, the Tigers had struggled to get much going offensively. But that changed Saturday when players who were slumping were suddenly on fire from the field. The biggest performer was sophomore guard Kim English.
In Monday’s game against Kansas, English found himself out of the starting lineup for the first time in 14 games.
“We have no starters,” English said. “Coach writes who he starts on the board before the game and we go with it. We don’t have a practice squad, we’ve got a team.”
Reinstated with the starting five, English showed he belonged. He led the Tigers with 20 points, including 14 in the first half. He constantly found his way to the basket, and helped the team maintain its composure, especially when Oklahoma State was threatening.
Other Tigers contributed to the shooting clinic, as well. Freshman guard Mike Dixon, locked in his own offensive woes, finished the afternoon with 12 points in 15 minutes. He attempted four 3-pointers, and made all four. But his impact was felt all over the floor.
“I thought Mike, defensively, was everywhere,” Anderson said. “He was touching passes, sharing the basketball, he was everywhere."
Anderson said those early conference games have been an eye-opener for Dixon.
“He’s a freshman,” Anderson said. “Welcome to the Big 12. That’s a lesson that non-conference is different. The urgency takes place in conference play. So you’ve got to find your way. That’s what all young guys do. We’ve got some young guys who are still trying to find their way.”
Though the team is loaded with underclassmen talent, the Tigers still look to their veteran leaders. Senior guard Zaire Taylor did his part to guide Missouri to victory Saturday. The stat sheet shows Taylor was good for 14 points, but one shot changed the outcome of the game.
Midway through the second half, the Tigers suddenly had a game on their hands as the Cowboys narrowed the score to 52-51. Then on a pass from sophomore center Steve Moore, Taylor drained a 3-pointer to put Missouri up 55-51. A few seconds later Taylor was at it again. Another three put the Tigers up by seven, and started a 27-9 Missouri run that put the game out of reach.
“I was just in the right position,” Taylor said of his big 3-pointer. “You’ve got to give Steve the credit. He got the rebound. He made that play possible by keeping it alive. That was one of the few second chance opportunities we got. It was an all-around big play. The second effort really made it happen. I was just the beneficiary.”