Missouri State's Despite often drawing double and triple coverage from opposing defenses, Gaige Prim is averaging nearly 16 points and 8 rebounds per game this season. (Photo by Jesse Scheve, Missouri State University)

OPINION |

One of Gaige Prim’s biggest fans can identify with Missouri State’s all-Missouri Valley Conference big man better than most. The soft-shooting touch around the basket? Yes. The ability to clear rebounds and the pestering attention from defenders? Yeah, all that, too.

It was a generation ago, but Danny Moore has been there and done all that. From one Missouri State great big man to another, Moore knows exactly what Prim goes through over the course of a long season as he collects points and bruises.

“I would get double- and triple-teamed nightly, and he does as well,” said Moore, the centerpiece of Missouri State’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 team in 1999. “What I like about Gaige, and what I would like to think I had as well, is great fundamental footwork around the basket. He’s really good at shot-faking, pivoting and getting angles to the basket.

“I love his game and enjoy watching him play.”

Moore will be watching Wednesday night, via television from his home in St. Louis, as Prim plays his final Missouri State home game. The Bears take on Bradley at JQH Arena, battling for position in the conference championship race and seeding at the upcoming Valley Tournament in St. Louis.

The Gaige Prim file

Name: Gaige Prim

Height: 6-foot-8

Weight: 235 pounds

Class: Senior

Hometown: Aurora, Colorado

Major: General Studies

Family: Son of Mitchell and Tracey Prim; has two brothers, Case and Dayne; Tracey played college basketball at New Mexico Highlands

Prim carving out his own legacy of excellence

Much like Moore, Prim has carved out a legacy of excellence during his three seasons at Missouri State averaging 15.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 80 career games. He’s shooting 56 percent from the field and 76 percent from the foul line.

“Gaige makes it all work,” said Moore, who played at Missouri State from 1996-99. Moore ranks sixth on the school’s career scoring list (1,691 points), first in free throws made (538), first in free throw attempts (685) and second in blocked shots (157). 

Just as Moore drew attention and opened up the perimeter for guard Kevin Ault, Prim and guard Isiaih Mosley are a formidable duo.

“Without Gaige, you don’t have the inside-outside combination,” Moore said. “This year, they have it with Gaige and Isiaih Mosley and can get that spacing on the floor. This was the year that I expected them to play well. 

“I know they lost a couple of games early that they shouldn’t have, but I like the way they’re playing down the stretch.”

Especially if Prim is able to dominate as he did in a recent home game against Indiana State, collecting 32 points and 11 rebounds. Prim made 18 of 21 free throws as opponents were whistled for 17 fouls guarding him with 17 more that probably could have been called.

Sunday in a disappointing 20-point loss at Northern Iowa, Prim scored 24 but only made it to the line six times before he fouled out.

Like Gaige Prim, Danny Moore was a skilled big man who drew plenty of defensive attention. Moore led the 1999 Bears — the last Missouri State team to reach the NCAA Tournament — to the Sweet 16. (Photo by Missouri State Athletics)

Moore, Prim both great at the foul line

No one was better than getting to the free throw line — and playing through physical contact — than the 6-foot-11 Moore. He was downright giddy about Prim’s 21 trips (most by a Missouri State player in the Division I era) to the foul line.

“Oh yes, I love that,” Moore said. “That’s awesome and that is one of the biggest things. When you’re a big player, not only are you helping your team by getting to the free-throw line, you are disrupting the other team by getting them into foul trouble. You are putting pressure on the other team.”

Getting to the foul line doesn’t happen every game. Sometimes, officials simply aren’t going to give the big man calls. Moore said Evansville hacked him to death and one official he still remembers — “Janssen I think was his name” — rarely blew his whistle in Moore’s favor. 

Those types of games mean that keeping your cool is a must, both in terms of not forcing up bad shots and not barking at either the officials or opponents in frustration.

Prim recently picked up a technical in a game against Valparaiso as he said something to the official following a no-call. He was assessed a technical on Sunday at Northern Iowa after fouling out. 

“You have to go into every game assuming you are going to get fouled,” Moore said. “There’s no other way around it. You can’t get mad because you get fouled. Your mentality has to be the more they foul more, the more I go to the line and the more I get them in foul trouble. So no matter if it’s two or three or however many people come at you and get you hit, you know it’s for the team.”

Coach Dana Ford has said that Prim has gotten better in dialing back his frustration — until Sunday when he let frustration get the better of him.

“You can’t not be physical with him,” Ford said. “He would score 50 points. But he’s matured and grown and learned not to be so frustrated with contact. Besides, what good would it do?

“He’s tough. I mean, he’s a rare, rare dude. How many Gaige Prims have we had around here?”

Can Prim’s Bears replicate Moore’s NCAA success?

Because of the Prim-Mosley combo, Moore believes the Bears can make some noise if they are able to get into the NCAA Tournament. He hopes to be in attendance at Enterprise Center in St. Louis and cheer Prim and the Bears during Arch Madness. 

Even after 23 years, Moore said random fans still recognize him when he attends Bears games and want to talk about that Sweet 16 run. Moore is hopeful that Prim, and his teammates, are able to experience that feeling.

“It would be incredible to be able to watch them back in the NCAA Tournament,” Moore said. “It’s been so long. Not only for myself, but for all the fans, the players and the city of Springfield,  to see the Bears make it back in the tournament would be great.”

A soft shooting touch, often rare for a big man, has been one of Prim’s assets. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound senior is a career 77-percent free-throw shooter in three seasons at Missouri State. (Photo by Missouri State Athletics)

The sports week ahead

Along with the Bears’ Senior Night game on Wednesday at 7 p.m., Missouri State wraps up the regular season with a 4 p.m. game Saturday at last-place Evansville. Other highlights of the college athletics sports scene this week:

  • The Missouri State Lady Bears bring a five-game winning streak into their final regular-season home games in JQH Arena, at 7 p.m. Thursday against Evansville and 2 p.m. Saturday against Indiana State. 
  • The Drury Lady Panthers, ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division II, play host to Quincy at 5:45 p.m. Thursday in the O’Reilly Family Events Center and Illinois-Springfield at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Drury men’s team has a tripleheader of home action this week, beginning at 6 p.m. Monday against Maryville. The Panthers face Quincy at 7:45 p.m. Thursday and Illinois-Springfield at 3 p.m. Saturday.
  • The Evangel Valor men’s basketball team (20-8), regular-season champions of the Heart of America Athletics Conference South, opens the postseason league tourney at home at 6 p.m. Wednesday against MidAmerica Nazarene (15-14).  
  • College baseball (weather permitting) will find Missouri State playing its home-opener on Friday at Hammons Field, against Cal-Poly. First pitch is set for 3 p.m., with the series continuing at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. The Drury baseball team has a weekend series against Parkside, at US Baseball Park in Ozark. Game times are 3 p.m. Friday and noon on Saturday and Sunday.

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