I was worried about this game. I picked Mizzou to win, but I never feel confident when you’re going to have to fight a Mark Fox team. They’re big and physical and do a great job of making you take tough shots.
Georgia is rarely the most talented team on the floor, but the Bulldogs have a potential SEC player of the year in Yante Maten, and they defend and they rebound.
It looked like the game was going to play out about how you’d expect for the first 20 minutes as both teams slogged through an ugly first half. The Tigers walked into halftime down three points after shooting 27% from the field and 11% from 3-point range. Thirty-two possessions yielded just 0.625 points per possession.
I mean ... yuck.
Thank goodness there are two halves of basketball. Missouri’s second half was a 180-degree turnaround: 57% FG and 36% 3FG in 31 possessions — 1.55 points per. That’s a little better. And by a little, I mean that’s exceptional. Considering the opponent you have to be thrilled with the second half. I mentioned to Matt Harris early in the second half I felt Mizzou needed to get to 60 to win, and they had a burst to push past 60 well before they needed to in order to win comfortably.
To the box!
Before we get to the three things, a noticeable off-night from Jordan Barnett. He didn’t play poorly, though, which is good to see. JB still had eight boards and just one turnover. He had a couple huge plays, including the block and run out when the offense was struggling early. And the straight-away 3 to put Mizzou up nine and cap a 14-4 run to start the second half was big as well.
But Barnett took a backseat. The very clear star and impact player of the game was Jontay Porter.
We welcome our new basketball overlord, Jontay Porter
Jontay was the best basketball player on the floor on Wednesday night, and it wasn’t really close.
I want to be clear about something — for those who have followed my writings over the year you know how much I love Yante Maten. But last night, Jontay owned him. Maten is one of the best and most underrated players in all of college basketball, and Jontay was just flat better.
Martin countered Maten’s big dunk by subbing out Puryear for Tilmon and putting Porter back on Maten.— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) January 11, 2018
Defensively, Jontay is so underrated. I do remember in the preseason, hearing scouts and analysts talk about how they worried about Porter’s defense and they thought it would be his biggest adjustment. Me? I never worried about Jontay’s defense because he’s so sound.
He walls up as well as any young big I’ve seen, and he positions himself in post defense in a way that allows him to affect shots. Whether he gets the block or not, Jontay makes posting up on him incredibly difficult. I don’t think Yante Maten will see as good of a defensive performance against him as he got tonight.
Porter’s solid defense on Maten is basic but effective, use your 6’11 size to disrupt and make him shoot over the top https://t.co/Yle2hhE9sb— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) January 11, 2018
Maten scored two field goals, and one of them came without Porter on the floor. His spin and reverse dunk on Kevin Puryear prompted Cuonzo Martin to sub Jontay back in to prevent Georgia from going on a run. The rest of the Bulldogs got a little hot over the next few minutes, but Maten did nothing the rest of the game, and it squelched any idea of a comeback.
And then on the offensive end...
Porter’s ability as a facilitator is equally important. I talked about it a little in my post a couple days ago. We’re going to reach a time, and probably very soon, when Jontay is the option at the end of games simply because he’s the best decision maker.
Porter had 15 points going against a great defensive front court, but he also had 10 rebounds, including three on the offensive side. He only had one assist, but part of that was Mizzou’s poor shooting from the outside. He dropped an absolute dime in the midst of Mizzou’s early run in the second half — the pass itself was a mood and tempo setter because it led to a monster dunk from Jeremiah Tilmon.
Tilmon had a good game in his own right: he scored 10 points, and while he grabbed just three rebounds, he played terrific positional defense and made life tough for Derek Ogbeide on the inside. He also helped out on Maten. Tilmon also fouled only twice in 20 minutes. The officials let them play a little inside, and it made a difference.
Mark Fox on Mizzou: "That’s the most they’ve let the post guys play all year and we didn’t respond to it. Their guys had their way with us."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) January 11, 2018
Ok, it wasn’t all about Jontay, the Tigers got some much needed contributions elsewhere
I lied in my headline, even if Jontay was really, really, really good.
- Kassius Robertson continues to be the closer for Mizzou in the right moments. I’ll take 15 points and five boards from the grad transfer.
- Jordan Geist took about six more shots than I’d prefer he take, but he had 10 points with Z-E-R-O turnovers. The Bulldogs are not a team which turns people over, but they do like to fight, so this is the perfect game for a guy like Geist. He was able to play solid minutes without turning the ball over and even had four assists. I don’t expect we’ll get this Jordan most nights, but if we can get him more often than not, the Tigers will be okay enough at point guard to get to the tournament.
- The very biggest development last night might have been the seven-point run from Kevin Puryear. In this space and others, both Matt and I have talked about how important Puryear is to this year’s team. And he’d been completely absent in providing any sort of impact on this team for about a month now. Making three simple baskets in a row to turn a six-point lead into a 13 point lead are important.
If this is a step in the right direction for Puryear’s confidence on offense, the Tigers will have a reliable third or fourth option they’ve been desperately needing.