It was a tale of two halves as Missouri (12-4, 2-1 SEC) overcame a rough start to defeat Georgia, 68-56. Jontay Porter posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Kassius Robertson also scored 15.
Mizzou had a horrid offensive start to the game, going on numerous scoring droughts and shooting only eight for 30 at halftime. They played excellent defense, however, holding Georgia (11-4, 2-2 SEC) to 31 percent shooting and forcing seven turnovers.
Porter got the start over Kevin Puryear, who’s been on a downward trend as of late. Coming into the game, Porter had outscored Puryear 50-31 since December 5 despite not starting.
“The reason for starting Jontay was just to allow Kevin to relax,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “You saw tonight what he was before those (last seven) games. Really aggressive, reading the defense, being strong, being physical, playing tough. He has a big body, he has to utilize that. It was more that as opposed to what Jontay is or isn’t doing.”
Porter struggled after scoring the game’s first points but settled in later on in the opening period. He made a tough layup and then threw down a two-handed slam as a part of the Tigers’ 6-2 run to close the half.
On his 21st birthday, Jordan Geist put forth a strong showing in the first 20 minutes. He scored five points, dished out two assists with zero turnovers, and had two steals. Geist’s swipe and lay-in with 37 seconds left in the first half cut the Georgia lead to three points.
Geist’s efforts were key in Missouri ending the game with a season-low six turnovers. “We’re progressing,” Martin said. “Just taking good care of the ball. We spend so much time on it, probably more time than I’ve ever spent on it. It’s what we have to do.”
Robertson hit a 3-pointer as time expired that would have tied things up at 23, but the shot was waved off after the replay revealed that the ball was still in his hands when the buzzer sounded. For as bad as it looked on offense, Missouri was incredibly luckily to find itself still in the game.
Once the second half started, it wasn’t long before Mizzou got going. Jeremiah Tilmon flushed home two dunks and Porter made a smooth up-and-under layup to give the Tigers a 27-25 lead.
“I thought Jontay played well tonight,” Martin said. “I was just talking to one of my assistants, you have to still realize, and you forget sometimes, he is 6’11”. He has length, he knows how to block shots, he has good instincts. It’s hard getting shots off on him.”
It didn’t stop there. Geist made a couple fast-break layups and Tilmon scored on his third jam of the half to make it a 13-2 run and push Missouri’s advantage to eight points.
Suddenly Mizzou was on fire, making six of its first seven shots while Georgia missed its first five. As the Bulldogs started to find themselves, Tilmon decided to take over. He scored on two straight post-ups, getting blocked on the second but grabbing the offensive rebound and putting it back in.
With one of the best big men in the country in Yante Maten on the other side, Porter and Tilmon’s importance rose exponentially. The two freshmen proved to be ready for the task, combining for 25 points and 13 rebounds while committing just five fouls.
“Honestly, I feel like you can’t double team,” Tilmon said when asked what makes a lineup featuring him and Porter so potent. “If you’re double teaming me, I can kick the ball out to him and it’s a guarantee he’s gonna knock the shot down.”
Georgia responded to Tilmon’s outburst by ripping off a 7-0 run to cut the Tiger lead to two points, but then Robertson stepped up. After hitting a three, he stole a pass on the ensuing Bulldog possession before dunking.
Robertson drained another 3-pointer to answer a Juwan Parker jumper to make it 50-42 Missouri. After missing his first five shots pretty badly, Puryear came up incredibly clutch for Mizzou.
Puryear hit a jumper before securing an offensive rebound and hitting a three. He scored again on a hop-step layup after pump faking a Georgia defender with six minutes left to give the Tigers a 13-point lead - their largest of the night.
“As hard as it was, forget about the first half,” Puryear said when asked what clicked for him down the stretch. “I didn’t think I played very well in the first half, but really to just put that all behind me and honestly just put my head down and go forward. I know I’m capable of making shots and making plays, so to see that three go through built a lot of confidence for me and everything else just spoke for itself.”
The Mizzou lead would go on to grow to 17 points with three minutes left after four straight Porter free throws, and the game was pretty much over.
Missouri travels to Arkansas (11-5, 1-3 SEC) for a 5 p.m. contest on Saturday. The Razorbacks lost to LSU 75-54 on Wednesday.
“I was surprised to see that score,” Martin said while admitting that he hasn’t closely reviewed film of Arkansas yet. “I know they play hard, they play in space, they attack the rim. They have really good guards, they got a good young big guy.”