Missouri men’s basketball cruises past Iowa State 74-59 in opener

The Tigers played a complete game on both ends of the floor after losing Michael Porter Jr. in the the game’s opening minutes.

For a moment, the stage felt a little too large for freshman Jeremiah Tilmon.

As he subbed out just one minute and 40 seconds into Missouri’s 74-59 win over the Iowa State Cyclones on Friday night, the freshman center’s heart was pounding.

“My adrenaline was rushing real hard,” Tilmon said. “So I had to tell coach to take me out of the game because I couldn’t breathe. I had to sit on the bench to catch my breath quick.”

Tilmon caught his breath and settled in to become a driving force for the Tigers in the victory, scoring 14 points while pulling down seven rebounds in front of a sold-out crowd at Mizzou Arena.

When Tilmon exited the game at the 18:20 mark of the first half, freshman Michael Porter Jr. exited with him. Unlike Tilmon, though, Porter Jr. would not return for precautionary reasons after tweaking his left hip in warmups, according to a spokesman for Mizzou Athletics.

After the game, head coach Cuonzo Martin was mum on details regarding his star freshman’s injury but said that Porter Jr. knew something was wrong immediately.

“He just said, ‘Coach, my leg’s not feeling right,’” Martin said. “So that was pretty much it.”

In Porter Jr.’s absence, Missouri thrived. The Tigers led from start to finish, suffocating the defending Big 12 Tournament champions defensively, holding a Cyclones team that averaged 80.8 points per game last season to just 59 points on 39 percent shooting.

The Tigers’ defensive stronghold was present from the outset. Tilmon and freshman big man Jontay Porter blocked the Cyclones’ first two shot attempts.

Senior guard Jordan Barnett talked about the importance of coming out strong on the defensive end.

“That’s a team that relies on offense a lot,” Barnett said. “To come out of the gate and block two shots to set the tone was huge. And I felt like it helped slow them down and made them a little more cautious, and then we were able to put up a lead right out of the gate.”

On a night that held so much anticipation for Missouri’s new faces, it was several of the team’s returners who played a large role in the win.

Barnett and junior forward Kevin Puryear paced the Tigers, particularly in the first half where the Tigers led by as many as 17 points. Barnett, who led the Tigers in scoring last season, looked relaxed on the offensive end, no longer needing to be the team’s primary scorer, and dropped 15 points.

For Puryear, Friday night provided a new experience: coming off the bench. After starting all 32 of Missouri’s games last season, Puryear found success on the outside of the starting lineup, putting up 17 points with eight rebounds on 86 percent shooting from the field. He showed off improved range as well, going 2 for 2 from behind the 3-point line.

“I kind of liked watching the flow of the game,” Puryear said. “I’m not used to it. I’ve always started. So to actually watch the flow of the game and then go in there and feel prepared, I wasn’t blindsided by what was going on.”

Martin gushed about Puryear and his performance and said the junior forward is someone the team will have to lean on for production.

“Kevin Puryear is a starter in this league; he just happened to come off the bench for us tonight,” Martin said. “Kevin Puryear is a guy who needs to bring the heat for us because he’s been in this league, and he’s battle tested. He knows how to get to the free throw line; he knows how to make shots; he’s really improved his three-point shot and his conditioning. So he’s a guy we’ve got to rely on.”

Graduate transfer Kassius Robertson struggled at times in his Missouri debut, but Martin stood by his point guard after the game. In his first regular-season game running the point, Robertson struggled with his shot, going 3 for 12 from the field.

“I thought he did a good job,” Martin said. “I didn’t realize he was 3 of 12 until I looked at the stat sheet, but as long as he keeps shooting the ball, I’m fine with it.”

Martin pointed to Robertson’s transition from shooting guard to point guard as a work in progress, but commended the grad transfer for accepting the role.

“I thought he did an admirable job in accepting that job, because we need him to do that,” Martin said.

For the first time since March 5, 2013, Mizzou Arena had a sold-out crowd on Friday night. Tigers fans arrived early and ready to be loud, and the atmosphere was electric from the opening tip.

Barnett, who is in his second season with Missouri, said he had only experienced a crowd like this one during last season’s game against Kentucky and that he and his teammates fed off of the crowd’s energy.

“It felt amazing, actually,” Barnett said. “You know, last year we didn’t get a lot of games like that. I could count on one finger the crowds we had like that last year. But to be able to come out in front of a packed house and get a win like that, it showed a lot about our team.”

For Martin, the night was one that was months in the making, and the crowd exceeded his expectations. But with that, he also stressed the importance of the crowd continuing to show out.

“It was great; I think our fans did a tremendous job,” he said. “But in order for us to be a great program, to maintain that, it has to be that every night. Because when you want a great program, when you ask for that, we need you in the arena to support.”

Missouri fans will have the opportunity to prove themselves to Martin again on Monday night when the Tigers take the floor again against the Wagner Seahawks at Mizzou Arena. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CT.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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