Missouri guard Mark Smith caught a pass from the right wing, rose up and drilled a three-pointer for his first basket as a Tiger.
The recently-cleared Illinois transfer hit another from the same exact spot just over a minute later. Not far after, another three found the bottom of the basket — this time from the left corner — and the former Illinois Mr. Basketball had nine points on three-of-three shooting from long-range with 15:31 to play in the first half.
Smith started the second half right where he left off, nailing a pair of triples in the first two minutes of play. With his second three-pointer — a slightly-contested one from the top of the arch — he set his career-high for three’s made in a game. Smith’s previous career-high was four. He finished the night five-for-eight from deep.
“In the summer when I came in, [shooting is] just what I worked on,” Smith said. “I’ve always been a good shooter. Just at Illinois, I don’t know, I just couldn’t hit shots. I worked my tail off this summer.”
With the departures of Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett — as well as a season-ending knee injury to Jontay Porter — one big question mark loomed over this Missouri offense: where will it get production from beyond the arc?
The other recent transfer with the last name Smith, Dru Smith, seemed like a viable option if he were to get cleared to play this season, but Evansville disallowed that from happening. Jordan Geist was somewhat of a long-threat last season, shooting nearly 37 percent from three. But that was as the Tigers’ tertiary three-point option at best.
Smith was one of the last players on Missouri’s roster expected to contribute with the three-ball, as he shot just 23.2 percent from long distance his freshman year at Illinois. He had only four games with multiple three’s made last season and only shot more than five three-pointers once all year.
However, Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin wasn’t surprised by Smith’s shooting Tuesday night.
“He’s been shooting the ball well,” Martin said. “He spends a lot of time on it. It’s one of those deals where with him, shoot the ball when you’re open but don’t neglect the ability to drive to the basket. He’s strong around the rim and can make plays. So, I’m not surprised [on his performance tonight] because he’s shooting it well in practice.”
Overshadowed by Smith’s barrage of three’s was his excellent job on the boards. He hustled all night, boxing out Central Arkansas players consistently. Smith finished the night with a double-double consisting of 19 points and 10 rebounds, adding a steal and assist to his total. He never had more than three rebounds in 32 games with Illinois last year.
Another newcomer and previous-Illini commit, freshman guard Javon Pickett, had an efficient night from downtown as well. It was fairly well-known Missouri’s starting five would consist of Geist, Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon and Kevin Puryear. That fifth spot was up for grabs, though. Pickett, Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson’s names were thrown out as possibilities to nab that starting spot, but Martin opted for the 6-foot-4 Pickett.
“I didn’t really know [I was going to start] until we were sitting in the locker room 30 minutes before,” Pickett said. “I was real comfortable with them because during practice, we always switch up the teams. So we all really get to know how to play [together]. Once you got Jeremiah [Tilmon] out there, he takes up a lot of attention, so that leaves open shots for everyone else.”
Pickett didn’t disappoint in his collegiate debut, going an efficient two-for-three from long-range, including Missouri’s first made field goal of the season — a three-pointer from the left corner, courtesy of a Geist assist.
“I’ve been working on my shot a lot,” Pickett said. “I’m able to get to the rim, but just the way the game was going today, I was just able to knock down some shots. If that’s what the team needs me to do, then I’ll do that.”
Although Smith and Pickett contributed nicely from deep, the Tigers’ offense relied much too heavily on the three-ball Tuesday night. Often times, it looked much like last year’s offense — minimal off-ball movement leading to forced shots that weren’t there.
It’s simply not OK for Missouri to only score 68 points against Central Arkansas. It’s understandable to have a bit of an offensive speed bump in the light of Porter’s injury, but if tonight’s showing is any indication of how the Tigers’ offense will be... get prepared for a long year.
Missouri will have to move the ball around far more than it did Tuesday if the Tigers are to have any chance in defeating Iowa State in Ames Friday at 6 p.m. CT.