Freshmen carry Missouri basketball over Missouri Western, 92-53

Freshmen come up big in exhibition win against Missouri Western.

The Missouri men’s basketball team returned to Mizzou Arena on Friday night for the first time since finishing dead last in the Southeastern Conference 2014-15 season. The team found itself with a number of fresh faces, as both Montaque Gill-Caesar and Johnathan Williams III, last year’s leading scorer, transferred from Missouri before the season started.

Mizzou’s inexperience weighed heavily on the mind of head coach Kim Anderson as his Tigers took the court to face Missouri Western in the preseason exhibition. Without any player standing out in the team’s scrimmages, Anderson had to go with his gut.

Anderson put the game in the hands of his youth, starting three freshmen and playing five in total, and his gamble paid off.

Mizzou crushed Missouri Western, 92-53, with the freshmen scoring a total of 36 points to lead the Tigers to victory.

Freshman guards K.J. Walton and Terrence Phillips led the way, with Walton scoring 17 points while Phillips dished out six assists and nabbed five rebounds.

Walton, who’s not known for his offensive prowess, attributed his offensive performance to his effort on the defensive end of the floor.

“I try to use defense to help create offense,” Walton said. “I just try to use that to get me going, if my shot is not going, and just go from there.”

Anderson was also pleased with Walton’s offensive showing.

“I’ve been a little surprised with how well (Walton) shot the ball,” he said. “K.J. Walton is a four-star recruit. He’s a good player.”

Phillips’ intensity throughout the game also made a great impact. At one point, the freshman lept out of bounds and into the scorers’ table to save a loose ball, despite the fact that it was only an exhibition game.

“That’s what we’ve been preaching the past three weeks here,” Phillips said. “Just playing fast, playing hard, playing together.”

Much of Missouri’s offense stemmed from uptempo play due to the turnovers forced by the Tigers. Phillips led the team with four steals, something he had wanted to improve upon from team scrimmages.

“I thought I really helped out the team, especially defensively,” Phillips said. “I don’t know how many steals I had tonight but those steals led off to fast breaks. They got (my team) going so just defensively I thought I had a much better game too.”

The energy displayed in the Tigers’ uptempo attack was something not seen in previous seasons. Anderson said he believes the change in style has been caused by a change in the mentality of his team.

“They’ve created a very competitive atmosphere in practice and that is something that this program needed,” Anderson said. “We needed that. We needed competition.”

Despite the strong start, freshman mistakes were plentiful, ranging from not boxing out offensive rebounders to launching shots at angles from which only Stephen Curry can succeed.

“I think the one shot (Phillips) missed was a bad shot,” Anderson said. “It was a 48-footer or something, and I called him over and I said: ‘I’ll call a play to get you a shot if you really want a shot. I’ll run a play for you.’”

Phillips finished the night successfully, making three out of four shots.

Overall, the exhibition was a successful one for the Tigers. Sure, it was against a team that finished 10th in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, but it was still a step for a team who is looking for a sense of identity this season. If there is an identity to be found, it will come in the form of the freshmen.

“This is fun,” Phillips said. “This was fun playing with each other, and I can’t wait to do it again next Friday.”

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