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Mizzou ‘enforcer’ Geist impresses Martin

December 16, 2017

COLUMBIA, MO. • Before he laid eyes on his new team, Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin received an intriguing text message last spring from the reigning Big Ten player of the year. Caleb Swanigan, like Martin a standout player at Purdue, had a short but sweet scouting report on one of the players Martin was about to inherit from Kim Anderson’s roster.

“You’ve got a killer in Geist,” the text read.

Geist, as in Jordan Geist, a 6-2 guard who was in and out of Anderson’s starting lineup last year, shot just 28.6 percent from 3-point range and figured to fall behind the fleet of newcomers Martin would bring to Columbia. Geist and Swanigan, now an NBA rookie in Portland, played together in Fort Wayne, Ind., before Swanigan became an All-American at Purdue and Geist surfaced at Mizzou via Ranger Junior College in Texas.

“I had just taken the job,” Martin said this week. “I didn’t know who Jordan Geist was. I hadn’t watched the film.”

He quickly discovered what Swanigan meant. Last year’s footage would have shown Martin an undersized guard who played with more gumption than obvious offensive skill. Geist didn’t always shoot straight but played with maximum effort on defense, sometimes more than opponents appreciated. Like the time he triggered a bench-clearing wrestling match at Georgia.

“He’s a tough dude,” senior guard Jordan Barnett said. “He doesn’t take nothing from nobody. That’s definitely Coach Martin’s mentality.”

This summer, Martin watched Geist embrace his creed for defensive intensity while becoming a self-made shooting threat. Geist discovered a hitch in his jumper and vowed to put up 500 shots each day. By summer’s end the count reached 40,000 shots, he said.

“Obviously, when a new staff comes in you have to do as much as you can to show them why you deserve to be here, why you deserve to play,” Geist said.

• MIZZOU TALK: Sound off about the 2017-18 season

• EYE ON THE TIGERS: Dave Matter’s Mizzou blog

All those shots behind closed doors have paid off since they opened for all to see. Through 10 games, Geist is shooting 48.1 percent from behind the 3-point arc heading into Saturday’s home game against North Florida (5-7). Last Saturday, Geist put together a career game, scoring 28 points against Green Bay in just 23 minutes. He made 11 of 14 shots, including five of eight from deep, and scored on a dunk in transition, prompting a rare outburst from the usually reserved Hoosier as he flexed his biceps in front of the student section.

“Something got in me,” he said. “There was a fire lit.”

Geist’s 28 points were the most for a Mizzou guard since Namon Wright had the same total against Florida on Feb. 24, 2015. Among Mizzou’s regulars, Geist leads the Tigers in offensive rating (136.8), which measures a player’s points scored per 100 possessions. That figure ranks second among all players in the SEC, as rated by Ken Pomeroy’s advanced metrics.

Geist has shifted between the starting lineup and the bench but has become a consistent piece in Martin’s rotation. He likes to call himself “an enforcer” off the bench.

• SCHEDULE/RESULTS: 2017-18 Mizzou basketball

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Geist made a quick impression on Kassius Robertson when the graduate transfer joined the team this summer.

“He always had that toughness, that grit,” Robertson said. “He’s a really fiery kid. He wasn’t going to be pushed around and he was going to get up in you as a defender and annoy the hell out of you. Me and him definitely had some battles in practice way before the season, so I know all about his game, all about his toughness. I’m glad he’s on my team for sure.”

Martin, too. Geist has gone scoreless in four of 10 games, mixed two more double-digit outings (16 points against Long Beach State, 11 against St. John’s) and had five games with at least four assists. But with Martin, defense always comes first, which explains why he wasn’t thrilled with Geist’s four-assist, zero-turnover game against Miami-Ohio last week when his usually strong defense fell off at times.

• PODCAST: Dave Matter in ‘Eye On The Tigers’

Otherwise, he’s lavished heaps of praise on the quiet enforcer with the remade jumper.

“He’s kind of quiet, but he’ll bite you now,” Martin said. “He wants to be a good player. When he steps on the floor it doesn’t matter if he’s looking down on you or up at you. It’s competition. And he’s not fazed by your size or your skill level or what you bring to the table. He’s trying to win the game. That’s what separates him from a lot of people.”

Credit Swanigan with the assist.

MISSOURI vs. NORTH FLORIDA

When • 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where • Mizzou Arena

Series • MU leads 1-0; last meeting, MU 96, North Florida 58, Nov. 20, 2010

TV, radio • SEC Network, KTRS (550 AM)

Records • MU (8-2), North Florida (5-7)

About Mizzou • The Tigers haven’t played since last Saturday’s 100-77 win over Wisconsin-Green Bay, the team’s first 100-point game since 2012. … Graduate guard Kassius Robertson continues to lead the Tigers with 14 points a game, while senior guard Jordan Barnett is close behind at 13.3. … Freshman forward Jontay Porter has become a productive all-around threat, averaging 8.7 points, a team-best 6.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.3 blocks, which ranks fifth in the SEC.

About North Florida • The Ospreys have played a rigorous lineup of high-major foes already, with losses to Michigan State, Michigan, Florida and Miami. Coach Matthew Driscoll’s team has won four straight games after starting 0-6. … North Florida is one of the nation’s worst-rated defenses (No. 335 in adjusted defensive efficiency) but shoots 40.3 percent from 3-point range. … Ivan Gandia-Rosa, a 6-1 sophomore guard, leads North Florida with 16 points a game while shooting 44.2 percent from 3-point range, one of six regulars shooting better than 40 percent from deep.