So far, Missouri lived and died at the 3-point line, but the Tigers’ interior game is beginning to develop into a sort of life support.
The Tigers still attempted 23 3-pointers against Houston, but made a more concerted effort to work the ball under the basket and take high-percentage shots.
A major benefactor and component of Missouri’s shift was junior center Kevin Young, who finished with a career-high eight points and seven rebounds. He scored two points against Brown. His previous career high was five points.
Young was modest after the best performance of his college career.
“I wouldn’t call myself a superstar,” Young said. “Some games play different. Some teams play different. I just had a chance to do something and I did it.”
The undersized Cougars struggled to match up with the 6-foot-9 Young. No one on Houston is taller than 6-7, but Young had failed to fully exploit similar matchups against Brown and in exhibition games.
Coach Quin Snyder was beaming about Young’s performance after the game.
“Kevin was terrific,” Snyder said. “Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about him. He was completely selfless. He played off the other guys. He finished plays and he really anchored us defensively.”
Missouri and Young held Houston’s starting big men to a combined 11 points, nine of which came from forward Ramon Dyer, who settled primarily for outside shots.
Snyder said the Tigers did not necessarily have a plan to get Young more involved, it was more a by-product of his hard work.
“I felt like I was getting more involved tonight,” Young said. “I was always under the backboard making hustle plays so I think I got a lot of hard plays tonight.”
The Tigers also outrebounded the Cougars 39-28. Forward Linas Kleiza had 14 rebounds to go with his 19 points, earning Missouri’s first double-double of the season.
Young said he didn’t mind falling short of his own double-double. He was more proud of his work on the defensive end of the court.
“I got a chance to really play some good D tonight, and that I’m really excited about,” Young said. “My teammates were getting in the passing lanes and they were making a whole lot of hustle plays. (Houston) had a lot of screens and a lot of ball movement all over the place, so we had to really play scrappy defense.”
Missouri, which is still looking for a big body to fill the absence of Arthur Johnson, who graduated last year, will look to Young for similar contributions all season.
His consistency in the paint will be particularly important in the Tigers’ contest against Davidson College on Friday, while center Jeffery Ferguson serves the final game of his three-game suspension. Ferguson was suspended for participating in an unsanctioned summer league during the offseason.
Snyder said he believed Young could become the consistent contributor the Tigers are looking for.
“The effort for Kevin was to do the things that he’s supposed to do and he embraced it,” Snyder said. “All of a sudden, he’s making good plays and he’s making plays to help his team. The key thing for any of our guys is to lose themselves in the team, and when you do that it’s amazing how much success you have individually. It really frees you up because you’re not worried about your shot. You’re worried about helping your team win, and I thought that’s what Kevin did tonight.”