A basketball player dribbles past an opponent
A three-star recruit out of Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kansas, Alston Mason spent one season at Oklahoma before transferring to Missouri State. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)

When Missouri State starting point guard Matthew Lee was lost to a season-ending knee injury last week, there were immediate concerns that the Bears were in trouble at an important position.

Certainly, Lee’s loss is a big one. The senior transfer from St. Peter’s helped the Peacocks fly to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last spring. He was being counted upon for solid guard play and leadership with his new team.

“He is the ultimate winner,” Bears coach Dana Ford said of Lee.  “He’s been where we would love to go, deep into the NCAA Tournament. With that being said, you have to have the next-man-up mentality because the season is going to continue on.”

Fortunately, this is a deep Bears roster

Unlike recent seasons, Missouri State has some quality depth at the guard position. Alston Mason, a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma, stepped in as starting point guard and excelled in Saturday’s home-court victory over Middle Tennessee State.

Mason had 16 points, three assists and one turnover in his first start. He fired in four 3-pointers in 31 minutes and, with others pitching in, showed that the point-guard spot is in good hands.

“Prayers up to Matthew for a speedy recovery,” Mason said, before evaluating his own first start. “When we found out the news, it was very devastating for us because we know how much of a factor he is on our team, how important he is. 

“But it kind of made us more aware that we have to step up, that more guys have to step up because he is out. I feel that was what I wanted to show, that I wanted to step up and be a leader for our team.”

Mason played against the Bears before transferring to MSU

Mason is one of 14 newcomers to the program, including seven Division I transfers, looking for a chance to prove themselves. The three-star recruit from Blue Valley Northwest in Overland Park, appeared in 18 games last season at Oklahoma averaging 1.4 points and six minutes.

One of his three 3-pointers came against Missouri State in a first-round National Invitation Tournament game last March. While he didn’t know it at the time, he would transfer to Missouri State a few months later.

“In the beginning it was challenging,” Mason said of the large number of transfers figuring out each other’s games. “Having so many new guys, you’re trying to figure out how to gel together, how to play together, the chemistry and knowing how to blend together. It’s been coming together good.”

Lee described his game as “all-around. Whatever you need me to be. If you need me to be a playmaker, if you need me to be a scorer, need me to run the team … that’s what I’m trying to do. A bigger attribute to my game is being a good defensive player and being a leader on the floor.”

A “three-level” player

Ford described Mason as a “three-level” player who has the ability to shoot from 3-point range or attack the basket off the dribble while being a pesky defender. 

“He’s good. He’s starter-good,” Ford said. “I said at the beginning of the year that I have seven or eight starters. We have a deep team. It’s good to have Alston available. He’s a little different than Matthew because he can really shoot it and he can score it. He’s a scoring point guard. 

“He’s working on his decision-making which is going to make us better as well.”

Mason said he doesn’t feel he has to change his game now that he’s starting and more eyes will be focused on his ability to direct the action with the ball in his hands. 

“I feel I’ve been in a position before to be in the point guard role and be a leader and it’s just a lot more emphasized now that Matthew’s out,” Mason said. “This is an opportunity for me to step up and fill those shoes.”

A basketball player prepares to shoot the ball during a game.
Alston Mason had 16 points and three assists in his first start at Missouri State as the Bears beat Middle Tennessee State 75-51. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)

MSU showing off quickness

The speed limit definitely has been raised for a Bears’ team that has quickness throughout the roster. Leading scorer Chance Moore (Arkansas transfer) comes off the bench and, along with guards Kendle Moore (Colorado State), Bryan Trimble Jr. (Akron) and Damien Mayo Jr. (freshman) can all get from one end to the other in a hurry.

Forward Donovan Clay, one of only three returnees, is not your typical 6-foot-8 forward. He often leads the fast break after grabbing defensive rebounds and led the team with nine assists against Middle Tennessee State. 

“Our team is very athletic. We like to run, push the ball and speed everyone up. We use our athleticism to our strengths, which helps us overall,” Mason said.

Asked who is the fastest player on the team, Mason gives the nod to Kendle Moore though he’s definitely in the mix.

“I change speeds a lot,” Mason said. “I can go from slow to fast and fast to slow.”

That quickness and depth could become most evident on the defensive end. Missouri State held a Middle Tennessee State team predicted to finish in the upper half of Conference USA to 34 percent shooting. While it’s a small sample size, Missouri State’s DI opponents shot that poorly only twice last season.

Bears in the Bahamas

With three games in three days starting Friday at the Baha Mar Nassau Championship in the Bahamas, followed by the Missouri Valley Conference opener Nov. 30 at Illinois-Chicago, that depth and how it plays on defense will get a more-defined evaluation.

Mason said the transfers not only have found great chemistry, but share a common bond to succeed. 

“There are a lot of transfers on this team, but I feel that only shows how hungry we are,” Mason said. “We’ve been put in a position to have the opportunity to win games and being able to have so many guys impact the game is important for us.”

The Bears open play in the Bahamas at 1:30 p.m. on Friday against UNC-Wilmington.

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton