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Michael Porter Jr.’s return wasn’t pretty, but it could’ve been worse for Missouri

Michael Porter Jr.’s return wasn’t pretty, but it could’ve been worse for Missouri

ST. LOUIS — Michael Porter Jr. did not tiptoe back into college basketball after four months on the shelf. Nor did he shirk any responsibility when his much-anticipated return didn’t end the way he had hoped.

After 23 minutes, a team-high 17 shots, 12 points, eight rebounds and a Southeastern Conference tournament upset loss to Georgia, Porter all but blamed himself for the defeat.

“We beat Georgia when I didn’t play,” the Missouri freshman said in the locker room after a 62-60 defeat. “We lost to them when I did. That doesn’t feel good.”

It feels like another chapter in the tortured history of Mizzou athletics, the latest in a decades-long string of disappointments that strongly suggest the Tigers cannot have nice things. They had two minutes of Michael Porter in November and nothing since until Thursday, when he did not magically morph into a program savior at the last minute. Same as it ever was.

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But we can save that melodramatic Missouri fatalism for next week, if the breathlessly anticipated Porter Era ends so shortly after it actually began.

For now, this was simply a trial run gone wrong. He wasn’t even the best Porter on the floor — that was younger brother Jontay (20 points, eight rebounds). There was a give-and-go layup early for his first basket since Nov. 10, and there was a dramatic 3-pointer late that gave the Tigers a chance to win, but in between was a guy who is a long way from peak form.

Yet while the loss short-circuited the excitement of having the SEC tournament on Missouri soil for the first time — and once again ceded the ticket market to Kentucky fans — that’s about the only drawback to Michael Porter giving this the old college try.

Mizzou can now proceed to the tournament that really matters with some knowledge of what Porter can and can’t do after recovering from November back surgery. And the Tigers can practice together with that basic understanding of what Porter’s role will be when the NCAA tourney rolls around.

He’s not going to be a wallflower. Not going to be a fifth offensive option. Not going to go quietly into that good NBA night without trying to make an impact on the college level.

“You don’t come back and say, ‘OK, I’m going to fit into a role,’ ” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “His mindset is still the same person. It’s just maybe a step slow.”

You have to respect that — the fact that he’s playing, the fact that he’s assertive, the fact that he’s willing to risk failure, the fact that he’s not simply trying to protect his draft status by sitting out what little figures to be left of Missouri’s season. Michael Porter doesn’t have

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