Mizzou Basketball Shows Youth, But Steps Up Late in Puerto Rico

Peter FleischerSenior Writer INovember 23, 2008

In typical Missouri basketball fashion based on the last few years, Mizzou lost to an Xavier Musketeers team that was more highly ranked and favored in their first game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. But unlike Missouri has done in the last couple years, the Tigers were able to rebound from a tough loss, and leave Puerto Rico on a definite high note.

Game One VS Xavier Musketeers

The Tigers had this one locked up. They were up seven points with just over seven minutes left but COMPLETELY choked at the free throw line, hitting only two of ten after the seven minute mark, before losing 75-71. Leo Lyons in particular struggled. Credit the Musketeers for hitting their own shots from the charity stripe, but the Tigers gave this one away.

There really wasn't a star for Missouri in this game, and that was the problem. They needed a leader to step up, and nobody did. Matt Lawrence was terrible, shooting  3-13 on the game. DeMarre Carroll, JT Tiller, and Lyons all scored in double figures but were a combined 9-19 shooting free throws. That's abysmal.

All five freshman really struggled as well, combining for just four points on 1-7 shooting. This was definitely a painful loss, as a win over a quality Atlantic 10 opponent would have looked great in March.

Game Two VS Fairfield Stags

Nothing crazy or unexpected in this one. Missouri fell behind after an early run by Fairfield, but ended up easily getting the blowout, 87-59. DeMarre continued to lead by example, with 16 points and five boards in just 22 minutes. Matt Lawrence shot much better, hitting 4-6 from beyond the arc, and juco transfer Keith Ramsey showed flashes with six points, five boards, and three assists in limited action.

Game Three VS USC Trojans

This was the game that the Tigers had to have to salvage their trip. Going 1-2 in P.R. and struggling against quality competition was unacceptable. And for the first time in recent memory, the Tigers stepped up against a big non-conference opponent.

The hero from Sunday is clearly DeMarre Carroll. "Marre" went off, blasting the Trojans for 29 points and 11 rebounds. On the other side of the ball, star forward Taj Gibson was consistently in foul trouble for USC, finishing with only 11 points. Carroll again received help from Lyons (13 points) and Tiller (14 points), and the Tigers pulled out a big 83-72 win.

Notes from Puerto Rico:

-Keith Ramsey seems to be coming along nicely. Rated by some services as the top juco forward in the Class of 2008, Ramsey has steadily gotten better for Missouri. He averaged 5.6 points and three rebounds in P.R. including an eight-point effort in only nine minutes against USC. His depth and talent in the front court would be invaluable.

-I don't dislike Matt Lawrence, but it's obvious that he is just not fit to guard top notch players in the Tigers frantic defensive scheme. He shot very well against a lesser opponent in Fairfield, but was pretty bad against Xaiver and USC. I look for his starting role to be taken as the season goes on, possibly by Marcus Denmon or Ramsey. He'll still be key to stretching the floor for Missouri.

-True freshman Kim English came to Columbia as the top-rated recruit in a big class. But so far he has looked mostly anxious and overly aggressive. He was awful against USC, going 1-8 from the floor for four points and four fouls, to drop his shooting percentage to barely 29%. He's got a smooth jumper and great atheticism, but he must be more patient and smart.

-DeMarre Carroll is finally healthy, and looks like the star of this team. His outburst against USC and overall performance in Puerto Rico completely outshined front court teammate Lyons, and Carroll has shown a shooting touch that he lacked in earlier years. If he can emerge as an All-Big 12 caliber player, the Tigers have a great shot at making the Tournament.