COLUMBIA — Missouri men's basketball coach Mike Anderson keeps saying he has eight or nine starters on his team.
It was the extra few starters, whom most observers might mistake for bench players, who propelled the Tigers to a big first-half lead against Prairie View A&M. Missouri's bench scored 37 points in the Tigers' 86-65 win.
Senior forward Leo Lyons, who scored a game-high 21 points against the Panthers, said he was impressed by how well his teammates played while he was on the bench.
"It's not going to be a drop off when we come out of the game anymore," Lyons said. "When the starters come out, you can expect it to maintain or expect the energy to come up. They made a lot of shots and played some good defense."
Missouri started slow, leading by five points midway through the first half, when Anderson went to his bench. The bench players went on a 16-5 run to extend the lead to 12.
Missouri's freshmen scored all 16 of those points. Freshman guard Miguel Paul scored eight in the first half, including back-to-back threes shortly after entering the game.
"I thought our guys came off the bench and gave us some excellent, some excellent minutes," Anderson said. "That's the thing about our basketball team. There is some balance there but on any given night, it could be a different guy."
After playing well in the first half, the freshmen played sloppily in the second half. None committed a turnover in the first half, but they combined for four in the second.
Anderson said his young players were too comfortable playing with a big lead and lost their focus.
The coach called a timeout to admonish his freshmen with 8:43 remaining in the game and Missouri leading 74-55. A few plays later, Anderson sent his starters back into the game.
"You've got to play with a sense of urgency no matter when you get in the game," Anderson said. "Let's say the game is a 20, 25 point game and in their mind they think, 'Let me get some shots up,' but we're working on something."
Despite struggles in the second half, Anderson said it's important to get his freshmen minutes early in the season against weaker competition, so they will be ready once the opponent improves.
Another Missouri newcomer, junior guard Zaire Taylor, waited 669 days to play his first game as a Tiger after transferring from Delaware.
He will have to wait at least a few more before scoring his first field goal in the Missouri uniform.
Taylor played a team-high 27 minutes but scored just one point. He missed all four of his shots. Anderson said he thought Taylor needed to work out some nerves after such a long break for playing real games.
"This is his first game in ... a year and a half, so you don't know how he's going to come out, so I think for this game to be played it got those nerves out of him so now I think he'll be more ready," Anderson said.
Prairie View is now 0-3 on the season after losses in California to UCLA and Weber State. The Panthers were 8-22 last season.
Missouri plays again at home Monday night against Chattanooga.