COLUMBIA — It wasn’t the starters who starred for the Missouri men's basketball team Tuesday night against Tennessee-Martin. It was the bench.
During the postgame press conference the three best players from Tuesday night's game are usually selected to answer questions, however tonight not one starter was represented. Instead, bench players Marcus Denmon, Steve Moore and Laurence Bowers represented the team. However, Bowers said he wasn’t surprised by the success the bench players had.
“Coach always says that it is important for the bench to play well for the team to play well as a whole,” Bowers said. “It’s not always about starting, but it is about playing time.”
The trio along with guard Miguel Paul and Michael Dixon was key in Missouri’s 83-68 win over Tennessee-Martin at Mizzou Arena. The need for the bench to play well was magnified after senior captain J.T. Tiller went down with a sprained left foot after getting fouled. Tiller exited the game early in the second half and didn’t return. Anderson didn’t have any more details about Tiller’s injury, but said he would know more Wednesday. Anderson said it was nice to see the bench play well, but has more realistic expectations as the season progresses.
“They scored 45 points tonight, and that’s not going to happen every night. Of course, when you look at a guy like J.T. Tiller, he is the heart and sole of our basketball team,” Anderson said. “It was very evident he wasn’t on the floor.”
Missouri coach Mike Anderson often played the five bench players together almost like a second starting five. Several of them averaged more minutes than the starters. The bench helped Missouri keep fresh legs throughout the game, and left several Tennessee-Martin players with their hands on their knees.
“To me it is a team effort. It is like a tag team. They get out there in the beginning and wear and tear … and now you got some guys off the bench and they are going to be the beneficiaries,” Anderson said.
The players appeared to have chemistry like a starting five. Bowers often found Moore on difficult lob passes for easy points, and Paul and Dixon helped run the offense smoothly, even throwing some alley-oop passes to Bowers. Moore also helped cap off a 17-6 run at the end of the first half with a tip-in layup at the buzzer.
“This is what we do in practice. We take our practice to the game. Coach stresses that all the time, taking our practice to the game, and that’s what we did,” Moore said about their success.
Part of the bench's chemistry can be attributed to Anderson’s practice style. The team will often mix and match lineups during scrimmages rather than playing the starting five together. Bowers said the scrimmages help make each player comfortable with each other so there is no drop off when the bench comes in.
“I think chemistry as a whole for the team, no matter who is out there, there is chemistry,” Bowers said. “So there is no lack of chemistry when one person subs out and another comes in.”
Much like last season the bench is going to play a major role in the team’s success. They scored a school-record 27 points a game last season, and averaged 44.5 points in the team’s first two exhibition games. Anderson was pleased by the results of the game, but knows it is only one game.
“I can’t compare them right now. You got some of the same guys, but we only played one game, I don’t base it on one game,” Anderson said. “The roles changed, but right now I don’t even have set starters.”