Michael Porter Jr. pressed his hands together and peered up at the Mizzou Arena big screen. When Missouri’s name popped up and the at-large bid was announced, the freshman phenom whipped out his phone.
All the while, he smiled.
No. 8 seed Missouri will take on No. 9 seed Florida State at 8:50 p.m. Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. The game stands as Porter Jr.’s second since returning from the back surgery he underwent in November.
Having seen Porter Jr. in action in the loss to Georgia, what does coach Cuonzo Martin think the freshman’s approach should be in the third game he’s played at the collegiate level?
“(He needs to) just play and read the defense,” Martin said Sunday. “Our job is to put him in position. His job is to take advantage of the situations — and not so much making a lot of dribble moves unless you’re attacking the rim, but catch-and-shoot, (make) straight line drives (to the rim) and post up.”
Leading into Missouri’s SEC Tournament matchup against Georgia, Martin’s plan was to play Porter Jr. primarily as a catch-and-shoot weapon.
Before the breakdown, here’s a quick statistical summary of the freshman’s performance in the game:
From 3-point range: 2-of-7.From midrange: 0-of-4.From around the rim: 3-of-6.
Porter Jr. grabbed eight rebounds and scored 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting in 23 minutes played. Only twice all season has a Missouri player attempted more than 17 shots in a game: Jordan Barnett scored 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting in 37 minutes against West Virginia, and Kassius Robertson scored 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting in 38 minutes against Illinois.
As seen in the following clip from the game, Missouri ran a number of sets involving double screens in attempt to draw Porter’s defender toward the Missouri player dribbling the basketball or the first screener against Georgia.
The sets often freed Porter up from behind the 3-point line on possessions like these.
In the game’s first half, which ended with Missouri trailing 33-24, freshman forwards Jontay Porter, Jeremiah Tilmon and Porter Jr. committed two fouls each.
Junior forward Kevin Puryear committed three.
The fouls forced Porter Jr. to play power forward in the post in lineups the team had rarely practiced with, Martin said. Porter Jr. went 2-of-10 in the first half, making just one 3-pointer and his first layup. He went 1 of 7 shooting jumpers.
Granted, this was his first time taking jumpers in game at the collegiate level.
It showed on possessions like this one.
Porter Jr. played more of the small-forward position on the wing in the game’s second half, in part because Barnett struggled and went 1-of-8.
Ultimately, Missouri lost the game 62-60. Many spoke of Porter Jr.’s 29.4 percent shooting number postgame — including Martin.
“I thought he had opportunities to score the ball,” Martin said. “More than anything, he was probably rushing his shot — shooting it a little quick — because I thought the shots he took were good shots.”
While he did not single any out, here is a clear example:
After watching film Sunday and analyzing the team’s offensive play in its first real game with Porter Jr., Robertson provided reasoning for the Tigers’ struggles.
“I think the main takeaway is synergy and flow as a team,” he said. ... “Taking good shots and taking the right shots — just playing the same game we’ve played all season. And I think we’re on track to get back to that.”
The team will have to get back to that without Barnett, who was arrested Saturday morning on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The senior has taken 9.9 shots per game, meaning a percentage of Missouri’s shots will be dispersed among players such as Porter Jr.
Florida State poses a tough test defensively, ranking 22nd nationally in blocked shots. Despite that, the Seminoles struggle defending the 3-point line, ranking 254th in the nation on kenpom.com.
Martin said he hopes Porter Jr. can capitalize on opportunities to catch and shoot come Friday at Bridgestone Arena. And if he’s consistently hitting shots such as the one below, he’ll once again smile like he did Sunday at Mizzou Arena.
Supervising editors are James Patterson and Pete Bland.