In one of its worst first-half showings of the year, the Missouri men's basketball team committed 12 fouls, coughed up seven turnovers and connected with just three assists.
None of that mattered.
The Tigers won their third straight game Friday, a 80-64 dismantling of Oral Roberts, and what truly mattered was the quality of team Missouri played.
The Golden Eagles entered the game at 3-8 with seven of their losses coming by more than 15 points, and even with how bad the Tigers looked in stretches, their worst was still better than Oral Roberts' best.
"I think we did a good job of weathering the storm and finishing out that first half fairly strong," forward Kevin Puryear said. "But in the second half we did a lot better job of staying in front of our guys and not fouling."
It was ugly from the beginning, as both teams were shooting under 20 percent from the field four minutes into the game. It wasn't until sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon bullied his way to two and-ones in the paint that Missouri pushed its lead to 7-2 with 15 minutes left in the first.
The lead was extended to 15-5 early on, but then the sloppiness commenced. After Mark Smith drew a foul with 11 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the first, Tilmon and ORU's Chris Miller engaged in a scuffle in the Tigers' paint that led to double technicals being issued to both players.
Whether fair or not — Mizzou Arena's reactions would have you believe it was the latter — Missouri couldn't stay out of foul trouble in the first half, and the Golden Eagles were in the double bonus before 10 minutes of game time had elapsed. Reed Nikko had four fouls, including a flagrant, by the half.
"I just think stuff happens in the game," head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I gotta go back and watch film to actually look at each foul, not to say they were bad calls. You know, stuff happens. It’s been a long week. But I thought our guys fought through it and did a good job."
Martin was right about it being a long week: his team just played its third game in seven days, and that took a toll Friday. All three of Missouri's tallest forwards — Tilmon, Nikko and Mitchell Smith — were in foul trouble all evening.
MU was fortunate to be afforded some extra depth, as it saw the long-awaited emergence of K.J. Santos. The transfer from Illinois-Chicago made his debut with 10:53 left in the first but didn't provide much help, as he didn't score and turned the ball over the first two times he got the ball.
"We wanted to try to play him (Santos)," Martin said. "I wanted to try to play K.J. because defensively I think he’s ready to play. Offensively, I think he’s a step slow. You can see that in practice. But I thought he’d be ready defensively."
The Tigers were also out-rebounded 20-18 and shot 42 percent in the opening period. Despite the unsightliness, Missouri headed into halftime leading 33-26.
The ensuing half saw Torrence Watson find his shooting form for the second straight game. After scoring a career-high 12 points in Tuesday's victory over UT Arlington, Watson delivered 12 points again Friday.
The freshman hit back-to-back 3s from either corner in thefirst half, and he went 4-for-4 from behind the arc against the Golden Eagles, his best shooting performance to date. He's now shooting 41 percent from 3 on the season.
"Yeah, it felt great. My teammates kept giving me the ball in that position, and I kept knocking them down," said Watson, who had a plus-minus of at least plus-20 for the second straight game. "Every time we hit a 3, the bench gets hyped — everybody gets hyped — so it really gets us going."
"I mean, he was a top-50 recruit in high school, so he’s fully capable of doing that night in and night out," Puryear said. "He’s been putting in a crazy amount of work, been in the gym every morning getting shots up. He’s a hard working individual and he’s definitely deserving of what was coming his way."
Jordan Geist, the Tigers' leader in scoring on the season with 12.7 points per game, dropped 12 points — his fifth time scoring in double figures. Five of those came with 13 minutes left when Geist finished a tough layup, then stole the inbounds pass and scored again on an and-one to an uproar from Mizzou Arena. The flurry put Missouri up 48-38, and the Tigers' lead wouldn't fall below 10 points for the remainder of the contest.
Mark Smith led the way with 14 points, and Tilmon and Puryear were right behind with 12 each.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin's halftime talks must be effective, because Missouri's 32-9 run was just the latest in a long line of examples of the team embarking on a torrid second-half stretch. The Tigers shot 53 percent from both the field and from behind the arc in the second half of the emphatic victory.
The game was so out of hand that with 1:30 left and Missouri leading 78-54, Brooks Ford, Evan Yerkes and fan favorite Adam Wolf received their first minutes of the season.
Now, as finals week begins at MU, Missouri will enjoy a 10-day break before it hosts Xavier on Dec. 18.
"We’ll definitely take off tomorrow. Possibly take off Sunday," Martin said. "Of course, it’s finals week so that’s very important to give the guys a chance. I’ve known for years this time kind of bogs you down mentally. The most important thing is to get it done in the classroom."
Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa.