MU coach Mike Anderson has been stressing defense since the first day of practice, and it showed Thursday night at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers forced 38 turnovers, including 21 in the first half to help them cruise to a 97-54 win over Division II Lincoln (Mo.). Missouri held the Blue Tigers scoreless for more than five minutes during an early 17-0 run, and they led 28-6 after 10 minutes.
"I just loved the defense," Anderson said. "We forced a lot of turnovers. The only thing is, we didn't take advantage of some of those turnovers. We ended up giving it right back again."
Missouri more than made up for its 22 turnovers in its first exhibition game of the season. Seniors J.T. Tiller and DeMarre Carroll each had four of the team's 21 steals in a game that saw 12 players get more than 10 minutes of playing time. Anderson said his substitutions won't be as liberal once the season starts, but it helped the Tigers' defense maintain its energy and continue its full-court pressure for nearly 40 minutes.
"I thought it was good, but I thought it wasn't the best we could do," Tiller said. "Even us older guys have done better (on defense)."
After going into halftime with a 29-point lead, Missouri maintained its intensity and actually held the Blue Tigers to just 25 percent shooting in the second half. With nine minutes, 43 seconds left in the game, Anderson removed his newcomers and inserted all five starters back into the game. They promptly forced three turnovers and went on an 11-2 run in less than three minutes.
"Coach says to never look at the scoreboard," said Paul, who finished with eight points. "But (with a big lead) you want to leak out a little and get more dunks."
Although Anderson was pleased with the defensive performance overall, he had some concerns. The Tigers committed 22 fouls, including three in three minutes by senior Leo Lyons to start the second half.
"Some of them were ill-advised fouls, and that's something we've got to get cleaned up," Anderson said, "but at the same time, we're going to be an aggressive and attacking team."
The Tigers also gave up 16 offensive rebounds, leading to several second-chance baskets for Lincoln.
Missouri's guards made bringing the ball up the court a challenge all night for Lincoln, forcing a 10-second violation and several turnovers before the Blue Tigers could even look at the basket. Some of those turnovers led to fast breaks and big dunks for the Tigers, including an impressive alley oop from Zaire Taylor to Lyons that got the crowd of 4,375 roaring midway through the second half.
"We're looking to make teams uncomfortable," Tiller said. "We like to make it the tempo that we play ever day."
That plan succeeded Thursday night in a promising start for a team that gave up more than 72 points per game last season. The Tigers' next challenge will be Missouri Southern in their final tune-up next Tuesday at Mizzou Arena before Anderson's squad opens the season Nov. 15 against Prairie View A&M.