If you’ve been paying attention to Missouri basketball during the offseason, you’ve surely heard of Dru Smith. The junior point guard, who sat out last season after transferring from Evansville, has been a popular subject in the preseason, with seemingly everyone around the program singing his praises.
So far, so good.
Dru Smith only took six shots but was all over the stat sheet, scoring eight points, assisting seven and adding an eye-popping six steals in Missouri’s 80-56 win over Division II Central Missouri in MU’s first and only exhibition game.
“I know he’s going to shock a lot of people … Dru, he plays hard, he’s a great finisher,” teammate Jeremiah Tilmon said. “He’s very smart too, so I feel like he’s a great facilitator.”
After the game, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin compared Smith’s impact to that of Jontay Porter, focusing on how Smith can affect the game in all facets, not just scoring.
“I don’t think I’m really a volume guy by any means,” Smith said. “I don’t think there is going to be many games where you see me take a lot of shots. Just trying to get guys involved, hit guys when they are open and just try to have an impact on the game … that’s really all I’m trying to do.”
Freshman Kobe Brown was a surprise starter for Missouri, beginning the game alongside Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith, Javon Pickett and Jeremiah Tilmon.
The 6-foot-7 forward had a great debut, scoring a team-high 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting, 3 for 8 from beyond the arc and grabbed five boards.
“I thought he was solid,” Martin said. “He did a better job in the second half rebounding, he just settled in. He can dribble, pass and shoot it. But he played a more physical brand, especially with the rebounding piece, in the second half.”
Sophomore wings Torrence Watson and Javon Pickett added 11 points apiece, while junior guard Mark Smith was the other Tiger with double figures, scoring 10 points.
The other two freshmen, Mario McKinney and Tray Jackson, scored six and seven points, respectively.
Missouri struggled in the first half, leading to a 32-31 halftime deficit.
The Tigers missed 11 straight shots at one point in the first half, going 5:24 without scoring. Couple that with committing 11 of their 13 turnovers during the first period, and you get a sloppy half of basketball.
Missouri did not get to the free-throw line at all in the first half but corrected that in the second, getting to the line for 19 free-throw attempts — a key to the Tigers’ dominant second half.
“The biggest thing in the second half was being aggressive, being assertive, being in more of attack mode,” Martin said.
Pickett jump-started Missouri in the second half, scoring an “and-1,” baseline dunk and layup to cap off a 7-0 run of his own, giving the Tigers a 38-32 lead that they would not relinquish.
Star center Jeremiah Tilmon picked up his third foul, all offensive, just 45 seconds into the second half. The junior returned five minutes later and did not pick up another foul, finishing with nine points, going a perfect 5-5 from the free-throw line. While it was just an exhibition, Tilmon’s teammates and coach emphasized how important it is to get him the ball more moving forward.
“We didn’t do a good job of getting Jeremiah the ball,” Martin said. “We have to do a good job with that. But on the flip side for him, if he doesn’t get the ball, continue to do a great job of rebounding the ball.”
As the season begins, Missouri needs to focus on limiting its opponents’ opportunities from deep, especially from the corners. Central Missouri shot a whopping 48% from three, allowing the much less athletic Mules to stay in the game. While the Tigers were able to overcome the three-point barrage on Friday, Missouri outscored the Mules 40-5 off of turnovers, a 35-point margin that’s unlikely to continue going forward.
Missouri will open its regular season at 7 p.m. Wednesday when it hosts Incarnate World at Mizzou Arena. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.