Missouri basketball (5-3) continues its five-game home stand Friday when the Tigers welcome in Oral Roberts (3-8).
After the Tigers’ roller coaster ride of a start to the season, things have settled down for Missouri with two straight wins. Two days removed from Sunday’s drama-filled overtime victory over Central Florida, the Tigers breezed by UT Arlington on Tuesday.
Oral Roberts is having a rough go so far this season. The Golden Eagles have just one win over Division I competition, a 78-69 overtime win against James Madison in Rochester, Michigan on Nov. 25. Oral Roberts is winless in true road games this season.
Here are three things to watch as the Tigers look to stay hot Friday:
Freshmen finding their groove
Torrence Watson found himself marooned in personally uncharted waters. For a player who left the Whitfield High School in St. Louis as the program’s all-time leading scorer, performances like Sunday’s zero point, two minute showings are not something the freshman is accustomed to.
Perhaps after a possible coming-out party on Tuesday, he won’t need to be.
Watson showed off his shooting prowess in Tuesday’s win, scoring 12 points including a 3-for-6 mark from behind the arc.
“The one guy I really talked to was Javon (Pickett),” Watson said after Tuesday’s game. ” (Sunday’s) game was kind of a breakout for him as well. He was saying you just have to be confident — be confident with his shot and confident in himself, so I kind of took that and then took that to this game.”
Watson was right — Sunday’s win over UCF that saw Pickett score a career-high 13 points was his breakout. Pickett continued his productive offensive run Tuesday with 10 points and five rebounds.
Xavier Pinson, the final member of the Tigers’ freshman trio that has seen minutes this season, also continues to produce more in his time on the court. After being held scoreless against Temple, the Chicago product has scored 13 total points in the Tigers’ last two games.
After Tuesday’s game, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin opined that because of the prevalence nowadays of one-and-done phenoms like Duke’s Zion Williamson, freshmen aren’t given a chance to go through struggles.
But they have on Martin’s team. Pickett has been a starter from day one, while Watson and Pinson have served in key bench roles. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Missouri’s freshman may be hitting their stride.
Geist’s improvement in ball security
After Missouri’s 79-77 loss to Temple on Nov. 27, a game in which the Tigers coughed up the ball 15 times, Jordan Geist took most of the responsibility, saying that a point guard can’t have four turnovers.
He didn’t just talk the talk.
Since then, Geist has drastically improved his ball security. He played a turnover-free 40 minutes on Sunday, then only gave away possession once Tuesday.
Geist, Missouri’s leading scorer (12.8 points per game) with a flare for the dramatic, is now contributing more within his role as the offense’s facilitator.
Potential Santos debut
After watching Missouri’s first seven games of the season in street clothes, sophomore K.J. Santos dressed for the first time on Tuesday, but did not make an appearance.
Martin said that should change during the Tigers’ matchup with Oral Roberts.
“I’m probably sure you’ll see him on Friday,” Martin said.
The 6-foot-8 transfer from Illinois-Chicago should provide Missouri with more depth on the wings. Santos, out of Geneva, Illinois, averaged 7.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game as a freshman at UIC during the 2016-17 season.
Projected starters — Missouri
G Jordan Geist — Sr., 6-foot-2
G Mark Smith — So., 6-4
G Javon Pickett — Fr., 6-4
F Kevin Puryear — Sr., 6-7
F Jeremiah Tilmon — So., 6-10
Projected starters — Oral Roberts
G Sam Kearns — Jr., 6-0
G Kaelen Malone — Sr., 6-1
F Emmanuel Nzekwesi — Redshirt-Jr., 6-8
F DeShang Weaver — Fr., 6-8
F Kerwin Smith — RSr., 6-10
When: 6 p.m., Friday
Where: Mizzou Arena, Columbia
Watch: SEC Network
Listen: 96.7, 105. 1 FM, 1580 AM