The highly anticipated debut of Michael Porter Jr. was brief. The Missouri Tigers did just fine without him in a 74-59 victory over Iowa State in the season opener.
Porter, considered one of the top two recruits in the nation, played just two minutes and scored two points before taking a seat on the bench with an ice pack on his left hip. A team spokesman said he “tweaked” the hip and was held out for the rest of the game as a precaution.
Kevin Puryear led Missouri with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Jordan Barnett scored 15 points, Jeremiah Tilmon added 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. The Tigers shot 52.9% from the field.
“We have a complete team,” Puryear said. “Of course, Michael is definitely one of our marquee players. He’s the No. 1 player in the country, an extremely talented freshman. But we have a lot of guys that can play, and I think sometimes we probably don’t get enough credit for that.”
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said Porter approached him after he submitted the starting lineup to the official scorer and said that his leg “didn’t feel right.” Martin said he removed Porter at the first opportunity because “his safety and his health was most important.” Martin said he had no update on Porter’s status after the game and didn’t even know what part of the leg was injured.
Nick Weiler-Babb led the Cyclones with 14 points and five assists, and Zoran Talley Jr. added 11 points. Iowa State shot 39% from the field.
Mizzou Arena is sold out for the entire season and excitement about basketball is surging after three straight losing seasons marked by dwindling attendance. Martin’s first major move after being hired in March was adding Michael Porter Sr. as an assistant. Porter Jr.’s commitment attracted other highly touted recruits, such as his younger brother Jontay Porter, Tilmon and Blake Harris.
Even without their star, the Tigers maintained a safe lead for most of the game. Missouri led 39-25 at halftime. Iowa State trimmed the deficit to eight early in the second half but couldn’t sustain the run.
“We’ve got a long way to go from the standpoint of both ends of the floor, but I think we’re heading in the right direction,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm, who has no returning players who averaged more 6.4 points last year. “Obviously, it’s frustrating, because we didn’t play great, but I’m glad we played this game so we know what we’ve got to get better at.”
Missouri: On Friday afternoon, a statue of former coach Norm Stewart was unveiled outside Mizzou Arena. Stewart, 82, attended the ceremony. Stewart coached the Tigers from 1967-99 and guided the team to eight Big Eight regular-season titles and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. His career coaching record was 731-375.
Iowa State: After qualifying for the NCAA Tournament six straight years, the Cyclones are rebuilding with just one player — sophomore forward Solomon Young — who started any games last season. ISU was picked ninth out of 10 teams in the Big 12 preseason coaches’ poll.
THE OTHER STAR FRESHMAN
Tilmon, a 6-foot-10, 252-pound forward, is far more advanced than the average freshman big man. The one concern about him going into the opener was foul trouble. In a preseason exhibition against Kansas, he fouled out . in a game in which players were allowed seven fouls.
He controlled his aggression against Iowa State, committing only three fouls
“Coach told me to look at it as if I already had three fouls when the game started,” Tilmon said.
Returning players Barnett and Puryear have suffered through a lot of low points and played many games in front of sparse home crowds, so the environment of a sold-out arena was a welcome change.
Barnett said he could count the number of home games he’s experienced at Missouri with that atmosphere on “one finger.” Puryear chimed in, “zero fingers.”
Missouri will try to improve to 2-0 when Wagner visits Mizzou Arena on Monday.
Iowa State makes its home debut Monday against Milwaukee.