KANSAS CITY – Missouri forward Tony Criswell came a rebound away from a double-double in his return from a suspension on Saturday night, but that doesn’t mean he’s here to stay.
Criswell, who sat out Missouri’s first two regular season games, was reinstated on a conditional basis and his spot in the Tigers rotation isn’t guaranteed, interim coach Tim Fuller said after Missouri defeated Hawaii 92-80 at the Sprint Center.
“It’s still conditional, game by game,” Fuller said. “Coach Haith put some parameters out there for Tony before he (Haith) left, and Tony knows if he meets those stipulations, he’ll play. If he doesn’t, he won’t.”
Fuller still won’t specify the details of those parameters, but did say part of the issue keeping Criswell’s status in limbo was “academic.” The suspension had been labeled a “violation of team rules” ever since Haith announced it on November 6.
"He just has to continue to do what he was supposed to do," Fuller said. "He executed that wonderfully this past week."
Suspensions are often more concrete things. When Haith is done serving his, he will return to his team. But Fuller left the possibility of Criswell finding himself away from the Tigers again very open, even after acknowledging the impact he had in his return.
Criswell didn't waste an instant, hitting a layup within seconds of his first appearance, which came eight minutes into the first half. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds and brought a balance to the Missouri offense not present in his absence.
Guards Jabari Brown (23 points), Jordan Clarkson (13 points) and Earnest Ross (12 points) were the Tigers' top three scorers once again, but Missouri also received 33 points and 24 rebounds from its frontcourt. Collectively, the group was able to persevere despite a difficult matchup against Hawaii forwards Christian Standhardinger and Isaac Fotu, who are both listed at 6-foot-8-inches and entered Saturday averaging double digit points per game.
"That's been a question everyone has had," Fuller said. "It was answered tonight. We do have a talented frontcourt and we're going to do it by committee."
Fuller's goal was to keep one of Hawaii's post players, either Standhardinger or Fotu, to under 10 points scored. Standhardinger was efficient and effective, scoring 22 points on 9-12 shooting. But Missouri was able to get Fotu in foul trouble and keep him there all night. Fotu finished with just seven points.
"They get an A in their grade," Fuller said of his big men. "Our frontcourt, I feel like they dominated the game and that's what we're looking for out of them."
Led by Criswell's nine boards, Missouri also out-rebounded Hawaii by 14. It was a collective effort that saw six Tigers grab more than five and allowed for many second and third chances.
"With their bigs rebounding the way they did, that's a really good team," Hawaii coach Gib Arnold said.
Criswell's 11 points marked the first time in the first three games that a Missouri big man scored in double figures. His teammates seemed to thrive in his return and praised his performance afterwards.
"Every time he steps on the court we know he's going to play well, we know he's going to play hard, we know he's going to rebound, we know he's going to grab the loose balls," Ross said. "We need him. I'm glad to have him back."
But the question going forward is: for how long?