Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Friday, the Missouri basketball team returned from its trip to Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui Invitational. So, how did it go?
“It was a good trip. Everything went well, from a logistical standpoint,” first-year coach Kim Anderson said with a laugh.
From a team-building angle, the Tigers had a chance to bond during their week in Maui. From a wins-and-losses standpoint, Missouri went 1-2, losing to No. 3 Arizona and Purdue before picking up a win against NCAA Division II team Chaminade.
“Sure, you want to go win three games, but let’s be honest, we probably weren’t going to do that,” Anderson said.
The Tigers play their first game since the trip at 7 p.m. today, meeting Southeast Missouri State at Mizzou Arena.
“Solid team,” Anderson said of SEMO. “A team that’s got the same record we’ve got, and they’ll mix in some zone and some man.”
The Redhawks played in Columbia in 2011 and 2012, and the Tigers won both meetings, 83-68 and 81-65, respectively. SEMO competes in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Both teams are 3-3, and Missouri would like to establish a winning record for the second time this year after an up-and-down Maui trip.
The Tigers held tight with the highly touted Wildcats in their first game in Hawaii for much of the first half. The Tigers were able to mix things up defensively before Arizona ran away with a 72-53 win.
“I said this after the game, I think Arizona’s better than we are,” Anderson said. “We tried to do some things that we normally don’t do to slow them down a little bit. As with most teams, it worked for a while, and then they figured it out. Great basketball team. Certainly deserving of their high ranking.”
Then came the letdown of a 21-point loss to Purdue.
“I thought Purdue just came out and got after us,” Anderson said. “I’m not sure we were ready for the physicality of the game and the type of game that it was going to be — and that’s certainly not taking anything away from Purdue. I thought they played great. … So I didn’t think we played particularly with enough intensity to play a team like that. And again, we’re playing some young players and some guys who haven’t played before.”
The Tigers bounced back for their only win of the trip, a 74-60 defeat of Chaminade, to finish seventh in the Invitational. Missouri jumped out to a 34-16 lead, but the Silverswords were able to get within 10 by the halfway point.
“Obviously that’s a team you should beat,” Anderson said. “I thought we played pretty well early.”
The most auspicious part of the win was the strong play from freshmen Namon Wright and Tramaine Isabell. Wright broke out for a team-high 21-point performance. Isabell had nine points, and the two combined to shoot 11-for-11 from the field, including Wright’s four 3-pointers.
Anderson said earlier in the year he hoped to get Wright, who came off the bench in the game, more involved in Missouri’s offense.
“The thing with Namon is, he just has to be confident in himself,” said freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar, the team’s leading scorer thus far this season. “He can hit shots. He can get to the rim, get to the foul line, grab boards, so it’s just a matter of him wanting to do it.”
One downer for Missouri in the Chaminade win was Johnathan Williams III’s absence in the second half. The sophomore, who is recovering from a meniscus tear, sat with an injury, but Anderson said there is no structural damage. The problem is mostly with tightness and weakness in the knee and hip areas, Anderson said, but he anticipates Williams will play tonight.
Though SEMO is a .500 team from a smaller conference, Anderson knows his team can’t take anyone lightly — especially given the Tigers’ season-opening loss to Missouri-Kansas City.
“I think for a young team like us and for a team with a lot of new players, every game’s a challenge,” Anderson said. “I would expect nothing different (tonight).”