COLUMBIA, Mo. — The concerns about where the scoring will come from for Missouri’s offense got a lot louder after a shocking loss in Friday’s season opener.
Coach Kim Anderson knew his team has some issues after the Tigers’ shaky performance in two exhibition games, and they lost a solid option off the bench with freshman Jakeenan Gant out due to eligibility concerns. But Missouri’s struggles came into clear focus in a 69-61 loss to UMKC, a team that hadn’t beaten a power conference team since 2003 or even compiled a winning season since 2004-05.
The statistics were ugly enough, with the Tigers shooting just 38 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free-throw line and committing 17 turnovers. It was nothing new for anyone who saw Mizzou fall behind by double digits in the first half against UMSL, only this time the Tigers couldn’t capitalize on multiple opportunities to rally back in the second half.
"We talked about this in the exhibition games," Anderson said following his disappointing debut. "We’re still trying to find ourselves offensively."
UMKC coach Kareem Richardson said a key focus coming into the game was stopping Mizzou guards Wes Clark, Keith Shamburger and Tramaine Isabell, particularly in transition. The Tigers couldn’t find much room to operate against the Kangaroos’ aggressive 2-3 zone, and Anderson expressed some frustration that his team didn’t want to run the ball more.
It’s painfully obvious that this team doesn’t have anyone ready to be a go-to scorer, though freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar has tried to take over the job in the absence of other options. He’s got some serious slashing ability and led the Tigers with 21 points, but a 9-for-23 performance shows he’s not quite ready to take on such a big role.
"I thought we played tentatively against (UMKC)’s zone and we didn’t have anybody other than (Gill-Caesar) who we could get into the middle of the floor to make a play," Anderson said. "Then we struggled on the baseline."
Missouri’s most efficient offense will be a much more balanced effort than the one Friday night, when Gill-Caesar and Clark combined for more than half the team’s points and field-goal attempts. But they shot just 35 percent from the field, and Anderson knows more players have to get involved.
Challenging the Tigers to take jump shots appears to be the right move, especially early in the game when they missed 12 of their first 17 shots, including five 3-pointers. Missouri will be in big trouble if it can’t get more open looks to fall in the future.
"I think at the beginning they extended their zone, so it’s hard to get open shots and it was a little bit harder to get the ball inside," said Gill-Caesar, who went 1 of 6 from beyond the arc in his first collegiate game. "When we did get open looks, we just weren’t hitting."
Even some of the easiest opportunities eluded Mizzou, most notably an open dunk by Johnathan Williams III after a nice move to get open along the baseline. The Tigers’ top returning scorer with 5.8 points per game a year ago hardly looked like a player capable of scoring in double figures on a regular basis, let alone leading the team.
But despite his lackluster six-point performance on 3-of-7 shooting, Williams stood out as by far the most dangerous scoring threat for Mizzou inside before he fouled out with 3:50 left. Ryan Rosburg and Keanau Post did little other than take up space on the post, and even when Rosburg showed some aggression offensively, he missed four of five free throws.
A short burst of outside shooting by Clark and Shamburger kept the Tigers close in the second half, but the point guards weren’t the efficient floor generals they were in the Tigers’ two exhibition wins. Clark had a respectable five assists to two turnovers, but Shamburger had to be disappointed with his three assists and team-high four turnovers.
It would have been unfair to expect Missouri to be clicking on all cylinders in its first game, and Anderson remains optimistic that his team will find a way to turn things around. A loss to a UMKC team that featured three newcomers alongside reigning WAC Freshman of the Year Martez Harrison doesn’t count as an indictment of the Tigers just yet, though it certainly could be used as evidence if things don’t get corrected.
Scorers must emerge soon for this offense, or it’s going to be a long season.