Parker Braun entered the game sooner than ever before for the Missouri men’s basketball team.
Before Tuesday night’s Southeastern Conference matchup with Mississippi was three minutes old, the redshirt freshman heard his name called and subbed in.
The former walk-on’s previous career high in minutes played in a single game was 11, which he logged in November against Morehead State.
Braun eclipsed that mark by halftime and more than doubled his previous best with 24 minutes in the Tigers’ 71-68 win over Ole Miss at Mizzou Arena. He finished the game with six points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
The Mizzou Arena single-game record for blocks in a game is six, set by Ricardo Ratliffe on two separate occasions in 2011, along with four opposing players that include former 7-foot-6 Central Florida center Tacko Fall.
Braun said he didn’t know he would get more minutes against the Rebels but that he stays ready for whenever his chances come. Even after Tuesday’s performance, Braun is averaging less than six minutes per game.
If the win over Ole Miss is any indication, that number will increase moving forward.
"It's always just being ready," Braun said of playing for a larger quantity than usual. "It's a full team effort and always being ready for it and keep working, pushing everyone in practice every day."
One vocal supporter of Braun is former Missouri women’s basketball standout and Columbia native Sophie Cunningham.
The current Phoenix Mercury guard tweeted after Saturday’s win over then-No. 11 Auburn that "Parker Braun should be getting more minutes. Period. He is a spark, has fundamental IQ, and has so much potential if you give him that confidence to just play basketball!"
Braun spent his redshirt year getting stronger in the gym and soaking up as much information as he could from the players and coaches around him.
"He's a talented player. Parker’s one of those guys, he'll be as good as the time and work he puts into it," Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "He’s gifted in a lot of areas, he's an intelligent player. I think with added strength, he'll go to another level. But him blocking shots and doing those things, I'm not surprised at all."
Possibly Braun’s biggest highlight moment Tuesday was a put-back dunk off of a missed 3-point attempt, only for referee Pat Adams to call Braun for a personal foul for going over the back of an Ole Miss defender.
Martin and Braun said in the moments after the call, Adams came up to Braun and admitted the call was incorrect. Martin said he appreciated Adams’ transparency.
Before Tuesday, the last time Braun played 24 minutes in a game was at Blue Valley Northwest (Kan.) High School nearly two years ago.
It’s fair to imagine Braun won’t have to wait two more years for another similar opportunity.
Dru and X step up
Missouri’s Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson have scored 105 points combined over the past two games.
Both natural point guards, they have been the Tigers’ clear driving force out of the bottom four of the SEC standings.
There have been other contributions, but when adversity strikes, the answer has come from the junior Evansville transfer or the sophomore from Chicago.
Missouri had a shorter bench than usual when it improved to 13-13 overall and 5-8 in the conference with the victory over the Rebels.
Only 11 Missouri players dressed for the game, and nine of them played, with only Axel Okongo and walk-on Brooks Ford staying on the bench.
Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith were again out of action due to injury, while Evan Yerkes was out with illness.
"We had a lot of guys out, so Dru and I have to step up big-time to make up for those guys who are out because we’re playing extra minutes," Pinson said. "We just take it as a challenge and own it."
Those restrictions placed more responsibility on Pinson and Dru Smith, especially with Ole Miss’ Breein Tyree scoring 29 points.
The Tigers duo combined for 49 points to help Missouri outlast the Rebels, as both teams now have only five regular-season games remaining.
Flipped a switch?
It’s become a pattern.
Missouri’s last four performances have been some of its best of the season and provided light at the end of the tunnel in league play.
The Tigers are in their seventh straight week of Tuesday and Saturday games, with the next challenge coming on the road against Arkansas at noon Saturday.
In that stretch, MU hasn’t had a true day off.
"They don’t know how proud I am of them just to fight through all this stuff because we don’t spend a lot of time making excuses and complaining," Martin said. "We just keep plugging along and we’ll find our way."
While the NCAA Tournament still appears out of reach, there are plenty of opportunities left to build for the immediate and distant future.
"They’ve grown and it’s a beautiful thing when you can grow in the midst of struggles," Martin said. "That says a lot about them and their character as young guys because you can easily give up. When you don’t really value or cherish something, you can easily say, ‘OK, no big deal.’
"But they value this, they appreciate each other. ... They have a level of respect for each other."