By Ken Cross
The Missouri Tigers have already formed the identity of first-year coach Cuonzo Martin as they are defending at a high level in the half court while smothering opponents with defensive pressure that has been the coach’s calling card throughout his career. That identity was on display Wednesday night as Missouri held South Carolina to 38.6 percent from the floor in fashioning a 79-68 win over the Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C.
“I know how important and how valuable it is to win road games, especially against a coach I have so much respect for in Frank,” said Missouri’s Martin, “How he goes about it, his level of leadership and his passion for his guys. It doesn’t matter who Frank has on his roster, they always bring a level of toughness.”
Tigers guard Kassius Robertson led all scorers with 23 points while Jontay Porter and Jordan Barnett added 19 each as Missouri grabbed a double-digit lead on a Kevin Puryear hook shot with 5:08 remaining in the first half and never relinquished it until late in the game.
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The Tigers were on fire from behind the arc as they made 14-of-24, tying their season record for triples which they set in wins over St. John’s and Green Bay.
“I think more than anything it is just me as a coach understanding the game has changed,” said Martin, “Getting more shots up from the perimeter and this is the most time I have spent offensively in my career since the beginning of the season.”
Porter had five and Barnett and Robertson had four each as Missouri spread those throughout the game and used the triples to get a quick lead and making nine of the 14 in the first half.
Jordan Geist and Robertson scored a quick nine points as the Tigers jumped to a 48-33 lead some three minutes into the second half. Geist hit a triple and drew a foul while Robertson continued to pick his spots on the perimeter as well as work off the dribble.
“We definitely want to get him the ball to make plays and shoot the ball,” said Martin of Robertson who played for four years at Canisius before transferring to Mizzou as a graduate transfer, “ I thought we shot the ball quickly. I thought we shot it too quick. I thought what we did do was defend. We got consumed with the score though in stead of finishing the game.
Missouri gained it’s final separation on a 17-6 run that last over a seven minute stretch in the second half as Barnett and Porter combined for ten points as the Tigers defense gained stops and scored on leak outs for easy baskets.
The Tigers finished with 16 points off ten Gamecocks turnovers as Porter hit a three with 8:56 remaining to give the Tigers their largest lead at 65-44.
Missouri goes to 11-3 with the win in it’s SEC opener. South Carolina fell to 9-5 and 0-2 in the league after losing the opener at Ole Miss. The Tigers host Florida at 12 noon on Saturday.