The Missouri Tigers men’s basketball team coasted to an easy 72-44 victory over the Eastern Illinois Panthers Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.
The 28-point win marks Mizzou’s largest scoring margin against a Division I opponent this season.
“We’re still trying to find ourselves. We’re getting better every day,” guard Amari Davis said. “Coach is talking to us, we’re all staying together through the ups and downs. I think this game, the way we played today, you know, it’s a big confidence booster for when we play [Kansas] Saturday. And we just got to keep the train rolling.”
Mizzou (5-4) generated over a third of its offense from the defensive end, scoring 26 points off of 19 Eastern Illinois turnovers. Eighteen of those came on the fast break.
The Tigers made 29 of 57 (50.9%) shots from the field for their best mark of the season. They continued to struggle from deep, making 2 of 19 (10.5%) three-pointers, but it wouldn’t matter as they outscored their opponent 50-24 in the paint.
“We’re better when the ball and body moves, it gives us a better chance as we continue to grow and learn each other,” MU coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Especially you’re not making three-point shots, we have to put pressure on, we have to do a great job of getting in the paint.”
Still it was another slow offensive start for the Tigers, who didn’t make their first field goal until a layup from Davis at the 16:27 mark.
Martin decided to switch things up and play a trio of freshmen early, subbing in Sean Durogordon, Anton Brookshire and Trevon Brazile — who was available for the first time this season — after the first media timeout.
Every player saw the court in the first half outside of freshman Yaya Keita and Jarron “Boogie” Coleman, who was unavailable because of an undisclosed team policy. Keita played in the second half.
“Just not meeting team expectations,” Martin said after the game of Coleman not playing. When asked if he would play at Kansas on Saturday, Martin said “we’ll see.”
With the group of freshmen in the game, the defense allowed Eastern Illinois to make three straight field goals to jump out to a 15-13 lead about midway through the first half. But it didn’t last long, as Mizzou went on an 11-0 run in less than four minutes to create some breathing room.
The Tigers led 32-21 at halftime after outscoring the Panthers by 13 points over the last seven and a half minutes. Still, they only shot 39.3% from the field and 15.4% from long range in the period, with eight of their points coming at the charity stripe and 12 coming on second chance looks.
Mizzou continued to build its lead in the second half against the Panthers, who entered with the second worst NET ranking of any Division I team.
Four Tigers finished in double-digit scoring: Davis (15) , DaJuan Gordon (14), Kobe Brown (11) and Javon Pickett (10). Brown also had 11 rebounds for another double-double, along with five steals.
Next up for Missouri is the Tigers’ first game against the Jayhawks since 2012. The game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence tips off at 2:15 p.m. and will air on ESPN.
“It’ll be a big test for us, especially being on the road,” Davis said. “So I’m looking forward to that, you know, playing against them in that arena.”