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Study Hall: Auburn 91, Mizzou 73

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The solution to all of Missouri’s problems: starting Reed Nikko. Hey where are you going? Come back here!

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
  • Mustapha Heron misses jumper, grabs rebound, assists a Bryce Brown 3-pointer (54-50, Auburn, 12:49 left)
  • Kassius Robertson makes two free throws (54-52, 12:25)
  • Chuma Okeke makes jumper (56-52, 11:24)
  • Kevin Puryear misses layup, Okeke grabs rebound, Jared Harper makes 3-pointer (59-52, 11:00)
  • Geist makes jumper (59-54, 10:43)
  • Harper assists Okeke 3-pointer (62-54, 10:23)
  • Heron steal from Barnett, Heron dunk, Mizzou timeout (64-54, 10:01)
  • Jontay Porter turnover, Okeke misses 3-pointer, Heron grabs rebound, Harper 3-pointer (67-54, 9:04)
  • Robertson foul, Harper 3-pointer (70-54, 8:29)
  • Robertson misses 3-pointer, Harper assists Davion Mitchell’s fastbreak layup, Mizzou timeout (72-54, 7:52)
  • Mitchell steals from Robertson, fastbreak layup (74-54, 7:33)

It took barely five minutes for Auburn to turn a 52-50 game into a 20-point romp. There were two offensive rebounds-turned-3-pointers (plus a couple more first-attempt 3s), three fast breaks, four Mizzou turnovers ... a veritable grab bag of how a) Mizzou loses games and b) Auburn wins them.

Mizzou was holding on by a thread for a while, using a couple of magic acts to get within two points midway through the second half. Then everything unraveled.

Team Stats

The suddenness of Auburn’s big lead did create a pretty funny situation: if you’d told me Mizzou would shoot 37% on 3-pointers and drastically outrebound Auburn, I’d have assumed victory. But Auburn’s ball-handling advantage was ridiculous — AU had as many steals as Mizzou had assists — and Bruce Pearl’s Tigers were a little too good at second chances.

Auburn grabbed just eight offensive rebounds but turned them into three 3-pointers, two paint putbacks, and five free throws. Seven of those rebounds resulted in points. That’s not sustainable, but it worked wonders for AU last night.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Barnett-Robertson-Nikko

When you lose by 18, you’re probably not going to have any players with a particularly solid plus/minus. Case in point: Barnett contributed plenty to the box score but was minus-16. Robertson held his own but was minus-13. That’s the nature of applying a team stat to individuals.

Here’s an interesting one, though:

  • Jeremiah Tilmon: seven minutes, minus-12
  • Reed Nikko: 17 minutes, plus-2

Again, context. Nikko was out during Auburn’s 20-2 run, and there’s probably only so much he was going to be able to do in that run. Still, despite getting a shot blocked, and despite missing the front end of two different 1-and-1s, Nikko made a clear, positive contribution last night. He grabbed nearly as many offensive rebounds as Auburn did, and while he had one shot blocked, he blocked two as well.

Long story short: earlier today, Sam mentioned the idea of benching Jeremiah Tilmon at the start of games. I like the thought of it, honestly, as a way of both easing Tilmon into a given game mentally and further teaching Mizzou how to play without him. And if Cuonzo Martin were to indeed go this route, I’m curious what Nikko would do starting in his place.

Nikko is Missouri’s best all-around rebounder — better than Tilmon on the defensive glass (and only slightly worse on the offensive glass), better than Porter on the offensive glass (and only slightly worse on the defensive side) — and for the season, he has a better offensive rating (114.2) than either Tilmon (99.5) or Porter (107.5).

Mind you, a lot of his positive offensive numbers came against shaky early competition. I’m not saying he’s actually better than the two freshmen; far from it. But he could probably handle a few extra minutes.

And to be clear, I’m talking about “starting,” not “playing starter minutes.” I think Nikko could handle at least five to six more minutes per game without becoming a liability, but if those minutes are coming at the beginning of a given half, then that means that, in theory, Tilmon is playing later in a half, which might not be a bad thing. (It also means that Nikko would be playing at a time when 1-and-1s aren’t really a thing yet.)

It might be worth testing out, anyway. If Nikko can indeed handle a bit more, that will take pressure off of the three players who most need pressure taken off of them at the moment: Tilmon, Porter, and Kevin Puryear. Worth a shot, right? Maybe?

Floor% (percentage of one’s individual possessions that result in points) kind of tells the tale here — one guy over 40 percent, and two at zero percent? Guh. Offense wasn’t as big a problem as defense in this one, but offense was still problematic.