COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri guard K.J. Walton has made seven career starts, all of which occurred last season.
Five games into the 2016 season, it would appear Walton is embracing his role.
After scoring a career-high 20 points off the bench in a 67-62 win over Tulane six days ago, Walton scored 19 points and grabbed four rebounds as Missouri coasted to an 84-60 victory over Northwestern State Saturday.
“I think we're playing pretty good with me doing that,” Walton said of his bench efforts. “I just try to come out here and listen to my coaches. They tell me pick my spots a lot better. Last year I probably would have been a lot more out of control going to the basket.”
Walton was the first player off Missouri's bench, which outscored the Demons' 43-8.
Frankie Hughes and Willie Jackson, who scored 11 apiece for the Tigers (3-2). Cullen VanLeer scored 10 points and Kevin Puryear finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
“He's doing it the perfect way,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said of Walton. “It gives him a chance to kind of evaluate the way the games being called and maybe what his man's doing or where can he get some buckets offensively.”
Northwestern State (2-3) led 14-9 early, but Missouri closed the first half on a 15-4 run and led 39-27 at halftime.
Walton attributed the Tigers' slow start to Northwestern State's energy.
“They just played harder than us pretty much,” Walton said. “I think guys came off the bench and gave a lot of energy and I think coach did a great job of making adjustments as the game went on.”
The Demons shot 1 for 6 to start the second half and trailed by double digits for all but 26 seconds. Puryear's three-pointer at the 15:50 mark sparked a 16-5 run that buried the Demons, who trailed by as many as 29 points.
Zeek Woodley scored 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting and Ishmael Lane had 12 points and eight rebounds. Woodley and Tra'Von Joseph missed key stretches of the game because of foul trouble. Joseph finished with eight points and a team-best eight rebounds despite his four fouls.
Northwestern State shot 36 percent from the field, including 5 for 25 from three-point range, and made 7 of 14 free throw attempts. The Demons also committed 18 turnovers — 13 in the first half — leading to 25 Missouri points.
RALLY FOR RHYAN
Missouri assistant coach Brad Loos' 6-year-old daughter Rhyan has been battling neurblastoma, a form of bone cancer, for more than a year. On Thanksgiving, the family announced that doctors located a new tumor in Rhyan's brain, and she was admitted to intensive care.
“She'll beat it, but it takes all of us,” Anderson said. “I know the guys are really emotional about it, but we're all praying for her and hoping for the best. We know the best will come.”
While neither team has an abundance of size, post play proved to be a factor as Missouri outscored Northwestern State 48-32 in the paint and won the rebound margin 40-38.
Northwestern State: The Demons have just one more Power 5 school on their schedule before heading into Southland Conference play. Last year, the Demons posted a 5-13 conference record, finishing 12th out of 13 teams.
Missouri: Freshman forward Reed Nikko injured his left ankle with 17:17 seconds remaining in the second half and did not return. Nikko leads the team in blocks and had been splitting time with fellow big man Russell Woods.
Northwestern State visits Mississippi State Monday.