Braun does little bit of everything to guide Missouri past Ole Miss

The redshirt freshman forward scored 6 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the win.

Parker Braun scored only 6 points against Ole Miss, but that hardly tells the full story.

The redshirt freshman also chipped in seven rebounds, four blocked shots and two assists off the bench. Perhaps most telling was how the Tigers performed with him on the floor. In his 24 minutes — a season and career high — Missouri outscored Ole Miss by 6 points in the 3-point victory. For comparison, with fellow power forward Kobe Brown on the court, Missouri was 12 points worse than the Rebels.

“I’m not surprised, ‘cause he’s a talented player,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “And Parker’s one of those guys, he’ll be as good as the time and the focus as he puts in. He’s gifted in a lot of areas. He’s an intelligent player, and I think with added strength, he’ll go to another level.”

Braun hasn’t gotten the most consistent playing time this season — he hadn’t played more than 11 minutes in a game before Tuesday. But after center Reed Nikko committed a foul early on Tuesday, Martin didn’t hesitate to go to Braun, a sign of confidence based on the forward’s recent practice.

“[I’m] just trying to stay in the gym,” Braun said. “I’m always in there with coaches, watching film, always staying active in practice, pushing everybody. Just always being ready for the next man up.”

Forced into major minutes for the first time all year, Braun didn’t know at the beginning of the game he would play as much as he did, or even that he would play at all. His full stat line represented his mentality: take advantage of the opportunity. Any edge he could give his team would help, regardless of where it was on the floor.

“I think I’m always available to do anything coach needs me to,” he said. “I try to be versatile on both ends of the floor.”

On a possession in the second half, point guard Dru Smith scanned the court from behind the 3-point line. As the defense tightened in anticipation of a drive, Smith whipped the ball to Braun hanging by the baseline, setting up an easy dunk. The baseline has become Braun’s usual spot. Since Missouri’s win over Auburn, he has had several easy baskets on similar plays when he floats near the side of the hoop along the baseline and just waits for the dish from a ball handler.

“Just kind of playing off guys, you know,” he said. “Guys like X [point guard Xavier Pinson] can always create their own shot and create shots for other guys, so I’m just always down there, ready.”

Smith has had a unique perspective on Braun, both literally and figuratively. He’s often the one feeding Braun inside, but he’s also seen his teammate develop in a way few others have. Both players sat out the 2019-20 season as redshirts. Although neither saw any game action that year, it gave them lots of time to practice together. It’s also helped Smith stay comfortable whether Braun or a starter is on the floor.

“Whenever he’s out there, it’s comfortable,” Smith said. “Me and him basically played in the pick-and-roll for an entire year last year, so seeing him doesn’t really throw me off at all.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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