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Young bigs are gonna be young bigs

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The future is bright for Missouri’s two freshman big men. The present tense is a little spottier.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
  • Jontay Porter, first 3 SEC games: 28.7 MPG, 14.3 PPG (46% 2PT, 60% 3PT, 93% FT), 8.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, 3.0 BPG, 0.7 TOPG
  • Porter, last 5 SEC games: 24.4 MPG, 5.2 PPG (41% 2PT, 19% 3PT, 60% FT), 5.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.6 BPG, 2.6 TOPG
  • Jeremiah Tilmon, last 6 non-conference games: 23.8 MPG, 10.8 PPG (62% FG), 6.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.5 TOPG, 2.5 PFPG
  • Tilmon, in SEC play: 17.0 MPG, 5.8 PPG (49% FG), 2.8 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 2.4 TOPG, 4.0 PFPG

Look, Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter are going to be fine.

Last night in Starkville was not their best night. Shooting a combined 6-for-13 from the floor isn’t terrible, and grabbing a combined nine rebounds could certainly be better. But each player had four turnovers, and Jontay continued his ineffective shooting from deep.

It’s so often tantalizing to watch them play: flashes of brilliance coupled with momentary lapses in concentration. Tilmon’s reverse pivoting to his right shoulder for an easy left-hook layup in the first half was one of the purest moments of joy I’ve had all season. Jontay making an early mid-post move to a jump stop and half-hook for an easy bucket after struggling on drives for three weeks was equally exciting.

But there was a lot else that went wrong.

They’re going to be really good and are going to be more consistent. But two incredibly talented freshmen have been saddled with a larger load than what was expected to start the season, and they’ve faltered more than we hoped.

Ideally, the pair would have Jontay’s elite brother, Michael Jr., carrying the scoring load. In the preseason, we envisioned Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett as second and third scoring options.

If you’re Tilmon, a player still tapping into a raw skill set, there’s a difference in the expectations when you’re the second or third option and not the fifth. Mizzou’s poor recent outside shooting has meant he’s going to face double teams. And while Jontay has shown he’s pretty good against them, Tilmon has been prone to turnovers.

Without a threat to score from the point guard position, or without an effective Kevin Puryear (whose offensive efficiency rating has crept over 100, the baseline average, just twice in seven games), the Tigers have been down to three offensive threats on the court.

And that’s just not enough when one or two of them is a freshman big.