In his first game action since injuring his left foot Nov. 17, Missouri’s J.T. Tiller played 31 minutes and led the Tigers with 12 points in their first true test of the season.
Missouri beat Old Dominion – which returned all five starters from a 25-win team last season – 66-61 on Friday night at the South Padre Island Convention Center in South Padre Island, Texas, advancing to the South Padre Island Invitational championship against Richmond at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Tiller, who suffered a bone contusion to his left foot in Missouri’s season-opener, wasn’t sure how his foot would hold up.
“Before the game, I was nervous because I didn’t know if I might tweak something or something might come back, but it actually felt really good,” said Tiller in a phone interview after the game. “I felt like it was 100 percent on the court.”
Tiller started the game but needed a breather after five minutes. He said he gained confidence as the game went on and his foot continued to feel fine.
“It’s like getting the butterflies out, actually,” said Tiller, who also had seven assists. “Once you get that nervousness out about everything, you start playing your game.”
Missouri coach Mike Anderson said the Tigers had some nerves at the start of the game. Both teams started cold, combining for 15 points in the game’s first eight minutes. Missouri forced 17 first-half turnovers and pulled away for a 32-18 lead at halftime, despite shooting just 12 of 30 from the field.
“I thought we came out and kind of created tempo,” Anderson said during his radio interview after the game.
Tiller hit a three-pointer to start the second half to give Missouri (4-0) a 17-point advantage, but Missouri’s lead only got smaller from there.
“You knew in the second half they were gonna make a run,” Anderson said.
And they did. The Monarchs (4-1) went on a 17-4 run – led by guard Marsharee Neely, who made four three-pointers and had 20 points in the game – to make it 49-45. Old Dominion used a 2-3 zone to force Missouri to shoot from the outside. The Tigers also got in foul trouble, helping the Monarchs catch up from the free throw line.
“Credit Old Dominion. They went to a zone, and I thought we got a little more tentative and we kind of settled for jump shots,” Anderson said. “And before you knew it, momentum kind of shifted back to them.”
But the Tigers hit some free throws of their own to hold on down the stretch. Missouri made 20 of 26 free throws in the game, including 15 in the second half.
“You’re going to be in that situation,” Anderson said. “And it’s good to see guys go up there real confident and knock ‘em down because teams make runs at you, and you’ve got to have something to stop that bleeding, and boy, we had bleeding going on.”
Despite shooting just 37 percent, Missouri got scoring from eight different players, and five Tigers scored at least eight points.