COLUMBIA, Mo. – Tim Fuller couldn't sleep Tuesday after Frank Haith told him he would be coaching Missouri for its first five games of the season. His stomach "turned" before Friday's season opener.
As it turns out, there would be little reason to worry.
Jabari Brown scored 19 points and Jordan Clarkson added 14 to help the Tigers cruise to an 89-53 win over Southeastern Louisiana for their 19th consecutive win at home.
Haith started a five-game suspension levied by the NCAA last month, but Fuller gave his mentor as much credit as anyone for the win. The coaches first met at Wake Forest in 1997, when Fuller was a player and Haith an assistant.
"I almost feel like coach Haith is not gone," Fuller said. "Because he's a part of me. He helped raise me since I was 19 years old. I quietly hear him talking as I'm out there coaching."
Missouri (1-0) showed no signs of distress after blaming a lack of communication for a close 92-79 exhibition win last week against Central Missouri. The team used 11-0 and 14-0 runs in the first half to break the game open, and hasn't lost to a non-conference opponent on its own floor since the 2005-06 opener.
JaMichael Hawkins led Southeastern Louisiana (0-1) with 14 points, while Jeffery Ricard added nine. Ricard and Dre Evans are the only returning starters for the Lions, who were picked to finish sixth out of 12 teams in the Southland Conference.
"I thought we lacked consistency quite a bit in the first half and got a little bit in the second," coach Jim Yarbrough said. "This team has some physical potential, but it needs to grow together for a while. They exposed us a little but we will keep getting better each day."
Earnest Ross opened the game with consecutive 3-pointers to give the Tigers a lead they would never relinquish. He then assisted on a layup by Johnathan Williams III, who scored seven points and became the first freshman to start a season opener for the Tigers since 2004.
"That's what we expect out of him, night in and night out," Fuller said of the newcomer. "He'll give us a double-double if we need it. He blocked shots, he rebounded the basketball and he gave us great defensive energy."
Brown is the Tigers' lone returning starter from a 23-11 campaign last season. The team lost more than 60 percent of its scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, much of which left when Phil Pressey decided to forego his senior season and join the NBA.
Ricard's 3-pointer with 7:06 remaining in the first half broke up Missouri's big runs, but the Lions only shot 26 percent from the floor before the break and didn't reach the free throw line. They did score the final five points in the half, capped by a thunderous alley-oop dunk by Devonte Upson from Hawkins with 43 seconds left.
Page 2 of 2 - Yarbrough said this week he hoped to see some consistency with his squad as it welcomes four junior college transfers and three freshmen. But other than an 8-0 run capped by Ricard's traditional three-point play 15 seconds into the second half, Southeastern Louisiana struggled to establish any rhythm against the Tigers.
One of the highlights of the night for the Lions came with 6:23 left in the game, when Ricard sustained an apparent left leg injury but walked to his bench surrounded by the entire team. Yarbrough didn't know the severity of the injury after the game.
"It was the first game and fast-paced, and we need to learn to gel better as a team," Hawkins said. "We have to run our plays and not get pushed over."
A crowd of 7,926 watched the Tigers shoot 54.4 percent from the field but only 55.6 percent from the charity stripe. Brown made half of his 10 attempts from the line.
"I'm frustrated with myself," Brown said. "I've never missed this many free throws in a game. I think it's just concentration, taking your time up there. Don't fall off the line or anything like that. But that's something we work on every day."
A 12-1 run that ended with a free throw by Brown gave Missouri a 72-33 lead with 8:22 remaining in the game. The teams then traded baskets until the final buzzer.