COLUMBIA, Mo. • Unless unfortunate news about Michael Porter Jr.'s hip -- or is it his leg? -- rises to the surface, this might have been worth more than just one win.
It was a message.
The Missouri men's basketball team opened the Cuonzo Martin Era by beating Big 12 member Iowa State 74-59 in front of Mizzou Arena's first sellout crowd in four years.
Not bad, considering the player who drew the most fans here didn't even break a sweat before he took a seat.
If I told you before the game that the Tigers would win by 15, and Porter would score as many points (two) as he totaled minutes on the floor (two), you would not have believed me.
I would not have believed me.
Porter's supporting cast? They would have believed me.
They spent the evening showing us why.
Porter's health is the biggest story here, period. Let's not get it twisted. Martin said the projected lottery pick told him before the game that his "leg wasn't feeling right." This came after Porter was reportedly treated for some back soreness this week. Martin said the only reason Porter started was because he had already been listed in the official scorebook as a starter, meaning a technical would have been assigned if he was scratched after revealing his injury.
At halftime, team officials described the injury as a "tweaked hip" that occurred during pregame warm-ups. Asked if it was a hip, Martin stuck with "leg." Freshman forward Jeremiah Tilmon said Porter wanted to play. Yes, you would think more thorough information might have become available between the start of the game and the start of the post-game press conference, but apparently not.
Mizzou's hope, for now, is that this was just a one-game thing. Martin made it clear he is not going to risk Porter's health, and that's admirable. Had the game become more competitive, perhaps Porter would have returned.
Now, can we turn our attention elsewhere for just a moment? What about this team Porter will return to?
The Tigers were the only ones not surprised by how the Tigers fared without Michael Porter Jr.
"We honestly have a complete team," junior forward Kevin Puryear said. "Of course, Michael is 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 who can play. Sometimes we don't get enough credit for that. But, you know, this team is always ready to play. We have talented guys who are willing to play together and share the ball. You guys saw that tonight. We shared the ball. Shot the ball well. And defended at a high level. It was an overall great team effort."
That confidence just went up another notch, in the first game of the season.
"To be able to come out in front of a packed house and get a good win like that, with Mike not playing very much, it shows a lot about this team," senior forward Jordan Barnett said. "We have tremendous potential to be a really, really good team when it's all said and done."
Here's what else we learned on the night the Tigers' top player sat ...
Foul trouble is pretty much the only thing that can stop Jeremiah Tilmon, and he was much better at limiting his fouls in this game. The freshman scored 14 points and made seven-of-nine shots from the field. He grabbed seven rebounds, two on the offensive end. He's got this beautiful, effective half-hook shot that is going to score a ton of points as long as he keeps establishing position deep in the paint.
"He's a big boy," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said of Tilmon. "He's going to be a good player. He's got size. He can score around the basket. He stayed out of foul trouble. I know what was kind of one of the knocks in the scrimmages and exhibitions."
Not Friday night. Tilmon had just three fouls in 25 minutes.
"I've been fouling out because I've been trying to go for every play," Tilmon said. "I can't block every shot. So, I just have to stay down, wall up, and if they got it, they got it."
Jontay Porter is a big man with guard-like skills, and it's fascinating to watch. Friday night, Michael's younger brother made the game's first 3-pointer. He showed remarkable body control when he saved a ball from going out of bounds, then fired it to a teammate with one hand. He corralled a loose ball between his legs, and dribbled it off the floor instead of simply picking it up. How many other 6-foot-11, 240-pounders dish three assists in 18 minutes?
Cullen VanLeer and Jordan Geist are going to play. VanLeer (15 minutes) started. Martin especially loves the grit that Geist (24 minutes) provides. The coach has raved about the junior since he started getting a feel for his tenaciousness in practice. As long as Geist plays his brand of basketball, there's a significant role for him on this team. This leaves Terrence Phillips (nine minutes) as the odd guard out. Same for freshman Blake Harris (eight minutes). For now.
The defense was stout. The Tigers held the Cyclones to a 31.3 percent field goal percentage in the first half as they built a 14-point halftime lead. Mizzou forced 13 turnovers on the game, and blocked four shots.
I worry about Kassius Robertson's 3-point shooting when he runs the point. The usually-sharpshooting graduate transfer made just two-of-six treys Friday night. He won't get many chances to set his feet before shooting when he's bringing the ball up the court. Something to watch moving forward.