Despite the 83-68 final, Friday night’s season opener for Missouri basketball did not go as smoothly as coach Frank Haith had hoped for in his MU debut at Mizzou Arena.
A sloppy start by the Tigers, compounded by a magnificent effort by the Redhawks of Southeast Missouri, left Missouri with just a 38-36 lead at halftime.
“SEMO played very hard, and played very well,” Haith said of SEMO’s first half performance. “First half defensively I don’t think we were where we needed to be. Did we do exactly what we needed to do? Not always. You don’t just start games firing away shooting threes. We need to start the game getting post touches, whether it’s post-ups or driving the ball.”
Making the first–half struggles even more glaring were the facts that SEMO, picked to finish sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference, was without forward Leon Powell, a preseason All-OVC selection, and was coming off a loss Monday to Division-II Harding.
“Give credit to SEMO; they came out with a lot of energy, they came out here and played hard,” senior Marcus Denmon said. “They played hard, but some of those shots as you continue to play solid defense may start to come up a little short and they start to get some misses and you get your rhythm going.”
Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe carried the Tigers with 14 points in the first half, making good use of his fade-away hook shot.
“It helps when he knows he’s got room,” Haith said of Ratliffe. “Big guys don’t like people around them.”
Missouri’s play was much improved in the second half, as the Tigers owned a double-digit lead for the final 14 minutes of play.
Fourteen second-half points by senior forward Kim English helped maintain MU’s grip on the game that had previously been in question.
The Tigers were facing former teammate Tyler Stone, who transferred to SEMO after spending two years at Missouri. It was Stone’s first regular season action as a Redhawk after sitting out a year, per NCAA transfer guidelines.
“He looked really good,” English said. “He looked good on film all week, he grew, he got older, he got bigger, I’m excited to see what he does this year in the OVC.”
As a team, Missouri shot 46 percent from the field on 6-of-16 shooting form three-point territory. The Tigers made 23-of-27 attempts from the free throw stripe.
Denmon and Ratliffe each finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
Following the game, English was relieved the Tigers won but was not surprised at how close the game had at times been.
“Those guys are Division-I athletes,” English said. “Tyler Stone played here, those guys can play, no one is going to come into a gym and lay down for you. We’re a good team, we’re going to get challenged every single night because of those six letters on our chest.”