Moments before the Missouri men’s basketball team took the court for its first exhibition game of the season, a commercial centered on the team’s transfers flashed on the Jumbotron.
After a few seconds of shoot-around and a flashy dunk by senior guard Keion Bell, the video ended with coach Frank Haith uttering a simple phrase.
“I can work with that,” Haith said.
Haith’s work was on full display Monday night at Mizzou Arena in a 91-58 trouncing of Northwest Missouri State.
A trio of starting transfers — Bell, senior center Alex Oriakhi and junior guard Earnest Ross — made its presence known in the opening minute with Ross nailing his first three-pointer as a Tiger.
“It got me going very well,” Ross said. “Just being out there to play my first college game in front of Mizzou, it was a great experience for me, and I thank everyone that came out to support us tonight. It was a great feeling, and I’m glad we got the win.”
After starting the first five minutes 5-of-5 from the field, Ross would lead the team in scoring with 22 points. Bell was close behind with 20 points, including three highlight-reel dunks, while Oriakhi led the Tigers with 10 of the team’s 39 rebounds.
The Tigers would hold a lead as large as 33 points in the first half, and a three-pointer from Ross with five seconds remaining put Missouri up 53-21 at halftime.
The momentum started to wane in the second half. The Bearcats were able to cut the Tigers' lead to 28 with three minutes left. The Tigers’ three-point shooting spiraled from 70 percent in the first half to 8.3 percent in the second. By the end of the game, Missouri had racked up 25 turnovers.
“For about 12 minutes, I thought we played really good basketball,” Haith said. “… Then for about eight minutes, we played OK. And then for about 20 minutes, we didn’t play as well as we’re capable of, and that’s where we need growth.”
Monday night also saw the return of stalwart veterans junior point guard Phil Pressey and redshirt senior forward Laurence Bowers. Pressey led the team with 11 assists.
Bowers, who redshirted last season due to a torn ACL, received the loudest fan reaction during introductions. He finished the game with 14 points and three rebounds.
With the team's addition of several offensive weapons, Pressey said he is confident in the team’s potential.
“With the new guys coming, we got coming in with Earnest (Ross), Keion (Bell), Jabari (Brown), Alex (Oriakhi) and the freshmen, only time will tell how good we can become,” Pressey said. “We’re going to work every day in practice to get a feel for our team, and I think we can have a terrific season.”
Notably missing from the game was senior guard Michael Dixon, who was suspended indefinitely during the weekend for breaking team rules.
It is too soon to name a starting lineup, Haith said after the game.
“It’s an exhibition game,” Haith said. “We’ll figure all that out, but (we're) not sure yet.”