Usually a coach empties the bench in the waning minutes of a blowout, allowing those relegated to mop-up duty, whether in a romp of a win or defeat, playing time and experience.
The playing time came early for Missouri’s reserves Wednesday. Coach Quin Snyder employed 10 different players in a 68-56 victory over Eastern Illinois.
It might have been a motivational ploy for the regulars, or maybe a showcase for any bench player hoping to improve his standing prior to the start of Big 12 play nine days from now. But either way, eight different Tigers played a minimum of 12 minutes.
Most significant was Missouri (5-4) sixth man Marcus Watkins seeing his first start as a Tiger. Though he wasn’t a bench player Wednesday, Watkins understands his role and says it makes no difference to him when he gets on the court.
“I mean it was exciting to get out there and start, but I mean whether I’m in the game at the beginning, the middle or the end, I’m gonna always be out there trying my hardest,” Watkins, who had three points and a pair of rebounds, said.
Watkins was starting for Jason Horton. The sophomore point guard was in uniform but sat out the entire game after starting every previous game this season.
After the game a tight-lipped Snyder would say only that the team had particular standards for all of its players in practice and in games, and that they had to be met to warrant playing time.
When Horton, who was suspended by the team for last season’s game against Kansas, was asked what those standards might entail, Horton was unable to shed any light on the situation.
“I have no idea man, ya’ll talk to Coach Q on that one,” Horton said before adding a “That’s it, man” and walking away from reporters when asked if he would play in Friday’s game against Oakland.
Horton’s absence gave James Douglas ample time to run the offense off of the bench. Douglas, who wears No. 2, had two points, two rebounds, two assists and two turnovers in 21 minutes, a season high for time played.
“I thought it was great just to have everybody play, bringing energy into the game,” Douglass said. “We just bring something different with every different player we have- just guys coming in, playing hard, getting the job done.”
The extended rotation seemed to be a point of emphasis as Missouri’s entire roster, besides walk-on Nick Berardini and Horton, not only played, but saw action before halftime. Following the under 12 minute timeout in the first half, Missouri sent Kalen Grimes, Matt Lawrence, Leo Lyons and Douglas to accompany senior starter Jimmy McKinney.
After losing 82-50 the last time out, Snyder may have been looking for some intangible to upstart the season before conference competition comes to town. Eastern Illinois (1-8) proved to be just the type of bounce-back opponent needed for the Tigers and their bench.
“It’s going to be very important (that the bench get minutes), especially when we get to the Big 12 where we got a lot of physical teams and our starters are going to get worn down. So we need a big lift from the bench,” Watkins said, speaking as a starter but acknowledging himself as one of those ‘bench guys’.
“They always bring a spark off the bench offensively and defensively so we’re always looking forward to them coming in the game.”
Outside of Marshall Brown putting up his first career double-double with 19 points and 11 boards, and established offensive stalwart Thomas Gardner’s 20 points, the remaining production was spread out. Bench players Grimes, Lawrence and Lyons had two points apiece, and Glen Dandridge added four.
Yet Missouri’s bench was still outscored by the Panther bench, 15-12. For the season opponents lead the tigers 162-135 in bench production.
The only way the number will improve, it would seem, is to play the reserves more. Like on Wednesday. Snyder didn’t seem completely pleased with the results, but the lineup indicates a willingness to grant the bench more opportunity.
“I thought, you know, the bench was good at times and I thought we let up at times. I think the bench was…” Snyder trailed off, considering the performance, before continuing, “I just want to see our team play hard and play unselfishly.”