The Missouri men’s basketball team wasn’t going to be outdone.
Not by the opening of a new arena.
Definitely not by the fallout from Wednesday’s NCAA sanctions.
The Tigers at times played sharp, team-oriented basketball Thursday, rolling to a 100-73 exhibition win against Central Missouri State in the first full game at Paige Arena.
There were 10,328 in attendance at the $75-million, 15,000-seat arena.
“I think it’s a players’ gym,” freshman Jason Horton said. “I mean if we go out there and play, you win.”
This mind-set was evident from the outset as the Tigers displayed plenty of energy and jumped out to an early 17-1 lead. By halftime their lead ballooned to 53-23 as Missouri forced 15 turnovers and shot 54 percent from the field.
Sophomore Linas Kleiza scored the first two points in Paige, connecting on two free throws, but he didn’t stop there. On the Mules’ next two possessions Kleiza stole the ball each time, assisting on senior Jason Conley’s jumper after the second one. Kleiza pushed the lead to 6-0 with a driving dunk on a Jason Horton pass.
Kleiza finished with 19 points to pace the Tigers, who shot 55 percent from the field.
“I think our team feels good about playing,” coach Quin Snyder said. “I hope we can shoot in here like that all the time.”
Junior Jimmy McKinney, who did not start, looked especially comfortable playing his natural position as shooting guard. He scored 13 points and was 3-for-3 from behind the 3-point line.
“Jimmy was terrific tonight,” Snyder said. “We’re not concerned with who’s starting. Jimmy McKinney has done everything for this program. I don’t think he was concerned with that.”
Snyder also commended McKinney and sophomore Thomas Gardner for their defense, which he said sparked several fast-break opportunities for the Tigers in the first half.
“Those guys in the first half really locked in and as a result we were really running a lot off our defense,” Snyder said.
Missouri’s Marshall Brown, who had eight points and six rebounds, had to finish his first collegiate game in the locker room.
Brown and three Central Missouri State players got tangled up going for a loose ball with four minutes and five seconds left. Elbows were thrown and Brown as well as the Mules’ Mike Suggs were ejected.
The Tigers played well together, distributing 25 assists on 38 field goals. Missouri also had 11 players score at least one basket.
“I thought we really did a great job of sharing the ball, and that’s a fun way to play,” Snyder said.
Missouri center Jeffrey Ferguson got in on the action, making efficient use of his playing time. He scored 11 points in 14 minutes, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key in the first half.
“They left me open,” Ferguson said. “Coach (Snyder) told me that if I’m open, ‘Get that open shot, hit it, knock it down.’ My teammates would tell me the same too. So I just did it.
“They gave me an open look, you shouldn’t do that.”
Corey Brown led the Mules with 21 points, included 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc.