For the second straight exhibition game, Missouri’s shots weren’t falling early, but for the second straight time it didn’t matter thanks to the defense.
Despite allowing the Asheville Altitude to score on seven of its first eight shots, the Tigers’ defense came to life and paved the way for a 74-60 win Tuesday night at Hearnes Center.
“I thought it was a great challenge for our guys, especially early in the game when we were having a hard time making a shot,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “I thought we dug in more defensively.
“I was really excited about how we defended. That has to be our identity.”
Off to a slow start
On the strength of its hot start, Asheville stormed to a 14-7 lead in the first 5:53. After that, Asheville connected on 17-of-55 shots, getting outscored 67-46.
In the 5:54 immediately after the Altitude’s initial burst, they went without a field goal, scoring two points from the foul line. Asheville also went 4:04 and 2:42 in the second half without a field goal.
Snyder said his team’s aggressive defense against the pick-and-roll was especially good.
The Tigers had eight steals and forced Asheville into 19 turnovers.
The Tigers weren’t much better shooting in the first half, though. They hit eight shots and shot 31 percent, but because of frequent trips to the foul line, the Tigers stayed close.
The Tigers scored eight of 12 points from the foul line to draw within 23-18 with 5:50 left in the first half. The Tigers made 11-of-16 free throws in the first half.
“That’s how most of the guys in the (Big 12 Conference) get their points,” sophomore Jimmy McKinney said. “If the shot’s not falling, I hope to get (to the line) because I know I can knock them down.”
The MU offense came alive with 13:42 left in the game, going on an 18-6 run to take control. Senior Josh Kroenke’s jumper from the corner concluded the run and gave the Tigers their biggest lead at 56-47. Freshman Linas Kleiza, who started the run with a putback, scored seven points in the burst.
Despite making 2-of-11 3-pointers in the first half, the Tigers got 3-pointers from Kleiza and McKinney during the run.
The Tigers had five players in double figures. McKinney led the way with 15 points with all but three coming from the foul line. Kleiza recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Travon Bryant, one of the few Tigers to shoot well from the field (5-of-8), scored 13. Kroenke was 1-of-7 on 3-pointers and finished with 10 points.
Although the Tigers brought their shooting percentage up to 43 for the game, shooting wasn’t the only offensive concern because they committed 22 turnovers as well.
A team coming together
Snyder said the turnovers should go away as the Tigers become more comfortable and efficient with a transition offense.
“We’re trying to play faster, and we made mistakes handling the ball,” Snyder. “A lot of that had to do with (Asheville’s) pressure and athleticism, but we need to do a better job taking care of the basketball.”
Senior guard Rickey Paulding led the Tigers with five turnovers.
“It’s something we focus on every day in practice,” Paulding said. “It’s something that will definitely go down. We’re playing a different style and different players. The style will lead to some turnovers, but as the season goes, we definitely have to cut those out.”
The crowd let out a collective gasp three times. Going for an offensive rebound, McKinney fell to the floor awkwardly when Lavor Postell undercut him. McKinney landed hard on his backside but remained in the game.
Paulding left the after he resprained his left ankle. Kroenke also needed to leave the game when he slightly hyperextended his left knee in the first half. Both players returned, and neither injury is thought to be serious.
Desmond Penigar was the only Asheville player in double figures with 23 points.