COLUMBIA — J.T. Tiller has been the talk of Missouri basketball coach Mike Anderson this fall.
The sophomore point guard, who Anderson said is “tailor-made” for Missouri’s system, is aggressive on defense and an overall hard worker.
“I love those kind of guys,” Anderson said. “I really do.”
On Saturday, in the Tigers’ 78-51 exhibition win against Missouri-St. Louis, that paid off.
With usual starting point guard Stefhon Hannah coming off a team-imposed suspension, the hot-playing Tiller made his first career start for the Tigers.
“It was different, nerve-wracking at first,” Tiller said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
It wasn’t exactly a storybook beginning. Tiller mishandled the opening tipoff, nearly letting the ball go out of bounds. He then turned it over and immediately committed a foul. A few minutes later, Tiller’s first shot, a short range jumper in traffic, missed everything.
“My nerves got that best of me,” Tiller said. “That’s all it was.”
Tiller ended up with 9 points, 3 steals and an assist in 22 minutes. Anderson implied that the starting lineup will be different for Missouri’s second exhibition game, Nov. 8 against Missouri Western, but Tiller is expected to take a bigger role this season.
“Last year I thought Stefhon Hannah wore down,” Anderson said at Big 12 Media Day on Oct. 17. “He had a tremendous year but he had to do so much. Now, with the emergence of a guy like J.T. Tiller, now you can rest a guy like that.”
Tiller showed signs of dominant defense at Mizzou Madness and at Tuesday’s Black and Gold scrimmage, running wild on the court and getting his hand in on just about every play.
With his brother Jamal Tiller, 15, visiting from Georgia, Tiller came out with visibly more confidence in the second half on Saturday. Midway through the half, the speedy guard led a fast break and threaded a bounce pass to Leo Lyons for a big one-handed dunk. A few minutes later, Tiller burst through the crowded lane, fought through a foul and softly rolled the ball into the basket. He made the ensuing free throw.
Tiller shot only 2-8 in the second half, but his contributions aren’t always visible on the stat line.
“Energy, aggressiveness on the defensive side and fast break, and speed,” sophomore guard Keon Lawrence said. “He brings a lot of speed.”
Anderson called Tiller a “kamikaze” player, one that leaves it all on the floor and always plays until he is exhausted. That’s what Anderson would like to see in all of his players, but recently, Anderson had to go as far as to ask Tiller to slow down. That’s not an easy task for Tiller, who also could have been a college triple jumper.
“I know what he (Anderson) is talking about,” Tiller said. “But sometimes I’m like, ‘Coach, I’m going pretty slow, coach. I’m not going that fast.’ But I guess I’ve got to slow down some more.”
Just not too much.
“When we recruited him and brought him here, he is tailor-made for what we do,” Anderson said. “Aggressiveness, toughness, he just has a lot of pride, and that’s what’s got to take place, we’ve got to have more pride in our defense.”
THE GAME: Junior forward DeMarrre Carroll lead Missouri 16 points on 7-8 shooting. The Big 12 preseason Newcomer of the Year also added six rebounds and two steals, mostly in the first half. The 6 foot 8 inch forward was dominant down low, scoring most of his points from the paint. Carroll, who played a team-high 23 minutes, said he was barely even tired when he was subbed out.
Missouri struggled initially, trailing 11-16 after nine minutes and holding a 33-24 lead over their Division 2 opponents at halftime. But the Tigers came out hard in the second half, outscoring UMSL 45-27.
“That first game, you’ve got the jitters taking place,” Anderson said. “I thought it was very evident early on, but I thought in the second half we settled down and really got into a rhythm.”
ONE SUSPENSION OVER: After a one-game suspension for violating team rules, Hannah came off the bench for Missouri, scoring 14 points and collecting six steals in 22 minutes.
“I think he has hopefully got his focus intact,” Anderson said.
Forward Darryl Butterfield, who is suspended indefinitely after pleading guilty to misdemeanor peace disturbance charges, was in street clothes.