After starting its season late, things are moving along quickly for No. 4 Missouri.
Three days after defeating Oakland University 90-85, the Tigers open their home season against Coppin State at 7 tonight at Hearnes Center. The return to Columbia has several players, including freshman forward Linas Kleiza, excited.
“Oh, definitely,” Kleiza said. “I already miss my fans.”
Although Missouri (1-0) must improve its ballhandling, senior forward Travon Bryant said an eagerness to play at home exists.
“Anytime you get a chance to play your first game on home court during the regular season, you’re definitely excited,” Bryant said. “The thing for us is to go out and continue to work on the things we’ve been working on.”
On March 14, 1997, Coppin State and coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell secured a place in NCAA Tournament history when they became the third No. 15 seed to win in the first round; they defeated South Carolina 78-65. Two nights later, they nearly became the first No. 15 seed to win two games, but fell to Texas 82-81.
Recently, though, the Eagles’ program has fallen on hard times. They finished 11-17 last season after going 6-25 in 2001-02, including a loss to Missouri. The Tigers beat the Eagles 74-47 on Jan. 2, 2002, the teams’ most recent matchup. The Tigers hold a 3-1 series edge.
Against Oakland, Missouri appeared on the verge of running away with the game late in the first half, but 20 Tigers turnovers allowed Oakland to stay close.
Missouri offset the giveaways with excellent shooting, making 51 percent of their shots from the field, including 53 percent of their 3-pointers. MU also made 23-of-25 free throws.
Despite committing a game-high six turnovers, sophomore Jimmy McKinney tied senior Rickey Paulding to lead the Tigers with 21 points in the opener — a career-high for McKinney. He also made all eight of his free-throw attempts.
Senior center Arthur Johnson recorded the 37th double-double of his career. He had 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Freshman forward Linas Kleiza had his first double-double getting 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Coppin State (2-4) has struggled offensively this season, averaging 58.7 points. The Eagles have scored less than 57 points in four of their six games. Senior forward Jimmy Boykin leads the Eagles with 16.8 points per game. Boykin has also made 43 percent of his 3-pointers.
Kelvin Green, who redshirted in 2002-03, has played well, averaging 7 points and 7 rebounds.
The Eagles have consistently filled their nonconference schedule with high profile opponents, and this season is no different. The Eagles have lost at Cincinnati and Xavier and will play at Michigan State on Dec. 30.