BUFFALO, N.Y. — Standing near the basket, Missouri sophomore forward Steve Moore bent his knees, waiting.
Then as West Virginia forward Devin Ebanks went up for a layup, Moore leaped like a volleyball player rising for a spike. It looked like something from a cartoon. Swinging his arm, he slammed the ball into the head of one of the West Virginia players, sending it flying out of bounds. The small section of Missouri fans drowned out the larger West Virginia crowd.
“STEEEEVE,” the Mizzou fans cheered, sounding like a herd of cows.
The block showed the physical presence that Moore could bring to Missouri next season. It was the result of a two-year process that started as a little-used overweight freshman to the first forward off the bench. In the Tigers' 68-59 NCAA Tournament loss to No. 2 seed West Virginia on Sunday, Moore showed he is ready for another step in the process — replacing senior Keith Ramsey.
“I think a lot of people saw what he can do in both games in this trip up here in Buffalo,” MU assistant coach Matt Zimmerman said. “He took some big charges in both games, he’s tough and he battled.”
When Moore first arrived on campus, he weighed nearly 300 pounds. He was forced to change his diet, spend extra time in the weight room and do plenty of running. His hard work helped him drop to 264 pounds, but he still only played in 18 games.
“When I first got here, my freshman year, obviously I wasn’t ready,” Moore said. “I had to get ready. I had to change a lot of stuff.”
Moore became so fit that Kim English said Moore was able to defend one of Missouri’s fastest guards, Miguel Paul, in full court drills. However, Moore still struggled to score on offense, so he decided to make another change to his game.
“I knew I was going to play this year,” Moore said. “So I just tried to do some blue collar things to help us win basketball games.”
Moore became tied for the team lead in charges taken and has eight on the season. Taking charges is something rarely seen from 6-foot-9 forwards, but Moore said he is proud of that aspect of his game.
“He doesn’t care about his body,” Missouri forward Laurence Bowers said. “I think he’s another J.T. (Tiller) in the form of a big man.”
Moore’s progress showed for the first time this season Sunday against West Virginia. Moore had three blocks and two rebounds in 16 minutes. He used his body to push the thinner Mountaineer forwards out of position and his height to disrupt shots, limiting them to no field goals in the final three minutes of the first half. He never once bent over to catch his breath and kept up with the fast breaks. On offense he made passes like a guard, even one that led to a wide-open 3-point shot.
“They’re a physical team, and I think when I was out there, I matched their physicality,” Moore said. “Physical, that’s my brand.”
However, Moore still struggles to score. He doesn’t have the athleticism and speed of Bowers or Ramsey to lead the fast breaks, and when he catches the ball, he ties to get rid of it so quickly it sometimes looks like he’s playing hot potato. He only averages 1.1 points a game.
Heading into next season Moore will need to make yet another change. Zimmerman said that he will need to become an offensive threat to replace Ramsey. However, for the ever-changing Moore, he doesn’t think it will be a problem.
“I most definitely have to add some offense to my game, and try to score a lot more often,” Moore said. “But I got time to work on it, so I’m not worried about it. I’ll get better.”