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Georgia spoils Porter Jr.'s return

Georgia spoils Porter Jr.'s return

March 9th, 2018 by Colin O'Brien in College Sports
Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. reaches for a rebound between Georgia's Teshaun Hightower (10) and Yante Maten (1) during the second half of Thursday afternoon's SEC Tournament game in St. Louis.

Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. reaches for a rebound...

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

ST. LOUIS — Missouri, even with the presence of Michael Porter Jr., could not advance to the Southeastern Conference Tournament's quarterfinals, losing 62-60 as a Kassius Robertson 3-point shot to win went off the back of the rim in the final seconds.

Nobody except Jontay Porter played well on offense for the Tigers (20-12), as his brother put it in the postgame press conference, but the double-edged sword of Porter Jr.'s return still cuts against the 6-foot-11 NBA hopeful.

Fans desperately wanted to see him return to the floor after a season of speculation, and while he was the team's second-leading scorer and tied with his brother for a team high on the boards, he shot 5-of-17 from the floor for 12 points, an assist and no turnovers in 23 minutes.

Martin said after the game he didn't alter the offense at all to accommodate Porter Jr., and he wanted him to do what he did all game, which was take jump shots, but felt they were just a little rushed.

"I thought the biggest thing really was trying to put Mike in position where he could catch and shoot, as opposed to having to make plays off the dribble, attacking the rim," Martin said. "Because that takes time, when you're getting your legs up under you, the adrenaline of the crowd, the energy, all of that.

"So I was just really trying to put him in position where he's a spot shooter, posting up, making plays at the rim. But because of the lineup situation, we had to put him out there extended minutes due to foul trouble. I thought he did a good job. I thought he did a solid job really just kind of settling in and letting the shot come to him."

The team's foul troubles, a result of Georgia forward Yante Maten's increased aggressiveness and physicality on offense from the last time these two teams met, forced Martin to play Porter Jr. in unusual situations and positions throughout the game, and he said as much after it.

Returning to a team after months of not playing or practicing for an elimination tournament is an unenviable spot, and Georgia coach Mark Fox said after the game he respected Porter Jr. for lacing up.

"In that kid's defense, it's awful hard to play your first couple college games," Fox said. "He didn't practice for most of the year, and then he had to come out and play in a high level game. You're probably not going to be real efficient. So I got a lot of respect for him even trying to do what he did today."

Former Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe made light of this and of Tigers fans' longing to see the highly-touted freshman succeed, and tweeted before the game, "Trying to keep my expectations for Michael Porter Jr reasonable today, so I'm thinking 60-70 points, 35 rebounds, 21 assists and then in the 2nd half, something similar."

Fox didn't think Missouri changed their offense to reintroduce Porter Jr. to college basketball.

"I don't think they changed schemes drastically, maybe a small wrinkle here or there," Fox said. "You know, he also played against the No. 1 field goal percentage team in the league. So we've been pretty good at that end. That's going to be hard for a guy that hasn't played any games or hasn't had game rhythm experience to probably be super productive."

Six of Porter Jr.'s points came on easy, uncontested looks at the rim in transition or off of a lob, but he refrained from dunking. After the game, Jeremiah Tilmon said he didn't read into that decision at all, and if Porter Jr. wanted to dunk it, he would have.

Before the game, Martin said no matter how the choice to play Porter Jr. worked out, it worked out for him because he made a decision and stuck with it by playing Porter Jr. After the game, he said he was happy with the way Porter Jr. played, and the process of his return was complete as the Tigers now turn their attention to the NCAA Tournament.

"Mike is a guy who puts a lot of pressure on himself just because of the shots," Martin said. "You don't have to go back and watch film. I don't think there were a lot of bad shots. I don't. I think it was just the energy, the way they defended, not allowing easy looks.

"But I think we'll be fine. I'm glad he actually got it out of the way and we can move forward. Things we can look at in practice to put them in position to be successful."