COLUMBIA — No one saw it coming.
As the final seconds of the half came off the clock, Steve Moore drifted out of his usual spot in the low post, setting his feet behind the three-point arc. Phil Pressey delivered the pass and Moore sent the shot, nailing the first 3-pointer of his college career with six seconds left in the half.
“I’m not gonna lie, it felt pretty good,” Moore said.
The big man’s 3-pointer was as unpredictable as the Missouri men’s basketball team’s struggle to defeat Western Illinois 66-61 in its first game of the Cancun Challenge on Thursday at Mizzou Arena. But, on a night when offense was hard to find for the Tigers, it was the other aspects of Moore’s game that helped Missouri escape an upset.
“His game is not predicated on offense,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “That’s what I like about him. He can have an effect on the game without even scoring.”
The Moore effect was fully on display after coming in off the bench in the first half. Within five minutes of entering, Moore had scored, dished out two assists, and grabbed three rebounds. Later, after checking back into the game, he nearly ended up in the lap of a Missouri cheerleader while chasing a ball out of bounds. Then came the three.
“Steve in my eyes was the player of the game,” Anderson said. “He came out and used his big body in there, scored in there. On defense he was rebounding and blocking shots, getting on the floor. He brought that energy you’ve got to have.”
Three quick fouls in the second half meant less Moore on the court. Fouling too much is a problem Moore admits to having, but his coach took a different approach.
“Maybe those fouls that he got, those were good fouls probably. He did his job tonight,” Anderson said.
With only 14 minutes of playing time, Moore ended the night with five rebounds, two assists, one block and a spot in a four-way tie as Missouri’s leading scorer with a career high nine points. Laurence Bowers, Marcus Denmon and Phil Pressey all matched his point total. The win was the first time in more than 50 years the Tigers had won without having a leading scorer.
Missouri shot barely more than 40 percent for the game, and made only 14-of-27 free throws.
“Offense will come and go, and it was gone tonight. But, at the end of the day our guys found a way to win,” Anderson said.
*Finding a way to win Thursday meant Michael Dixon knocking down three out of four free throws in the final 15 seconds to keep the Tigers just far enough ahead of the Leathernecks, who were led by Matt Lander’s 24 points.
Junior guard Kim English said the team realized their No. 15 ranking is going to make the Tigers more of a target.
“We learned that Mizzou means more now than it did four years ago. Every time we step on the floor we are going to get everyone’s best shot,” English said.
Missouri will get North Florida’s best shot Saturday at Mizzou Arena before the team heads to Mexico to finish the tournament.