COLUMBIA – As freshmen last year, Miguel Paul and Steve Moore stood out among Missouri’s seven newcomers.
Like a pair of sore thumbs.
Paul, for his poor decision-making, reckless pace and sloppy play on the court. And off the court, for exaggerating his relationship with NBA superstar Chris Paul, a stunt which received national media attention.
Moore, for weighing just shy of 300 pounds and being in much worse shape than Missouri’s other big men. And for settling comfortably into the last seat on the bench, which he left for just 87 minutes of action.
Both players regularly looked as lost as the Missouri opponents who became overwhelmed by the Tigers’ suffocating press. Paul and Moore were Missouri’s odd men out, struggling to find their roles.
Missouri’s exhibition opener against Truman State on Friday night gave Paul and Moore their first chance to prove what coach Mike Anderson has said about them since the start of practice – that they’re changed players.
The verdict? Paul and Moore now seem more like attributes than afterthoughts, but they’ve still got a lot to prove.
Missouri proved that its press is here to stay, making quick work of Truman State during a 96-33 win in front of 8,120 – including a nearly-full student section – at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers bolted to a 23-3 lead and held Truman State to 8 points in the second half. The Bulldogs were overmatched, launching any open shot they could find while Missouri used them as dummies to work on its relentless press.
“We’re a work in progress, but the one thing I continue to be impressed with this team is the work ethic,” Anderson said. “They brought the energy tonight; you could see that.”
J.T. Tiller scored 13 points in 16 minutes. The forward trio of Laurence Bowers (14), Justin Safford (10) and Keith Ramsey (9) combined for 33 points. All three were dominant: Ramsey had his way on the baseline, Bowers corralled 12 rebounds and Safford made himself tough to guard by hitting several mid-range jumpers.
Moore didn’t have the impact of the three players he figures to find himself behind on the depth chart, scoring 2 points in 13 minutes. But Anderson insists Moore will be able to contribute.
“I think he’ll be OK. He’s just got to get with us,” Anderson said. “There were opportunities where he was open; we didn’t get it to him. But it’s not about scoring. That’s what people think – it’s about scoring. Steve was blocking shots. I think he had six rebounds.”
Midway through the second half, Moore received the ball in the post, pivoted a few times and banked in a shot off the glass for his only points. It was a reward for the big man who had been trying to establish himself in the post throughout the game but rarely got the ball from his teammates.
Moore’s post-up, back-em-in style just doesn’t seem to mesh with the Tigers’ up-tempo offense.
When asked if it’s difficult to feed Moore the ball in the post because of Missouri’s style of play, Zaire Taylor said: “We in a race with time. That’s a true story. We in a race.”
Safford quickly jumped in with a more diplomatic response.
“There’s certain things that Steve does, and I think Steve knows his role on the team as well as everyone else does,” Safford said. “There’s certain things that Steve can do to benefit our team, to help us be successful.”
Moore shed more than 30 pounds in the offseason, and it shows. He was able to keep up with his teammates and haul in rebounds. But every time Moore works in the post, looking for someone to throw him the ball and he doesn’t receive it, you wonder if he will ever find a fit in Missouri’s system.
“Find him and get him touches since he’s rebounding and blocking shots,” Paul said of Moore. “You’ve always got to reward the big man, so that’s going to be something to concentrate on.”
Not the easiest thing to do when the Tigers are jetting up and down the court, looking for fast breaks.
As for Paul, he said he is trying to penetrate more this season instead of settling for forced jumpers, a common sight last year. Paul was more aggressive on Friday night, scoring his 3 points on foul shots created by going to the basket.
Paul expects his role to increase this year, which gives him a different attitude.
“When you only play 15 minutes, you’re trying to shoot or you’re trying to make something happen when you don’t need to,” Paul said.
But Paul, too, finds himself competing for playing time with a trio of proven guards (Tiller, Taylor and Marcus Denmon) and one rising freshman – Mike Dixon Jr. Dixon had 10 points in his Tigers' debut and has impressed Anderson since the start of practice.