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Missouri avoids three-game losing streak with win over UCF after Geist’s miracle 3-pointer

Jordan Geist was the hero of a 64-62 overtime win over UCF to prevent Missouri from falling below .500. Jeremiah Tilmon won the matchup with 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, providing the Tigers a spark in the comeback victory.


Jeremiah Tilmon, like all Missouri fans, could do nothing more than stand and stare as Jordan Geist’s desperation heave flew toward the basket. After the game, he let out a long, low sigh before speaking about whether he thought his teammate’s shot would fall.

“Nooo, I did not,” the sophomore admitted. “But I prayed (while it was) in the air.”

As soon as the ball left Geist’s hands, he had focused his sights on the rim. The buzzer sounded. The basketball hit nothing but twine. The shooter stood motionless at the spot where he’d launched the 3-pointer before turning calmly to the Tigers bench that rushed over to greet him.

And Tilmon stood in place a moment longer, gazing at the basket which stood in front of a sea of joyous black-and-gold-clad fans, astonished Missouri had found a way to survive five more minutes.

The Tigers (4-3) beat UCF (6-2) in overtime 64-62 as Geist shook off his crunch-time demons with the miracle 3-pointer.

“I can’t even describe it,” Geist said. “Just being out there, God blessed me with an opportunity like that. I can’t thank him enough.”

And indeed, divine intervention was a small topic of postgame conversation. Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin added that he’d been praying earlier because, after all, the game took place on Sunday.

MU, a 3-point underdog at tipoff, avoided falling below .500 for the first time since the end of the 2016-17 season with the victory over the preseason American Athletic Conference favorite. The win also prevented a three-game losing streak after an 82-67 defeat at the hands of then-No. 12 Kansas State in the Paradise Jam final and a 79-77 home loss to Temple on Tuesday.

Geist led the way with 18 points (15 of which came after halftime) on six-for-12 shooting, including five-for-eight beyond the arc, and three steals. Tilmon missed much of the first half with foul trouble, but had a monumental impact once he found the floor. The center recorded a plus-17 rating with 10 points on four-for-six shooting in his matchup against 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, but only grabbed one rebound (although he did an excellent job keeping Fall off the glass).

“I was like, ‘Dang, when I shoot it, his arm’s so long he ain’t even got to jump,’” Tilmon said. “But when I shot it, and it ended up going in, my confidence changed. I noticed that I could get it over him still, then I started trying to go after him.

“The whole time on the sideline I’m sitting, looking up laughing like, ‘Dang bro, this is how it feels when people be saying, “You tall, bro.”’”

Freshman Javon Pickett also played well with 13 points on 40 percent shooting as well as two steals.

Aubrey Dawkins, son of Golden Knights head coach Johnny Dawkins, led UCF with 22 points on six-of-nine shooting. The redshirt junior also made all six of his free throw attempts. Redshirt senior BJ Taylor and redshirt sophomore Collin Smith added 12 and 11 points, respectively. Fall attempted only three field goals, making all three for his six total points, and was limited to four rebounds in 37 minutes. He did block six shots.

Missouri jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the game's first three minutes behind three 3-pointers, including two by sophomore Mark Smith, who finished with eight points. The Tigers began to lose control once Tilmon committed his second foul (one that probably should’ve been a no-call) less than five minutes in, relegating the center to bench duties for the rest of the half.

The Tigers struggled offensively with the sophomore on the bench, scoring only 12 points over the final 17:16 of the first period, including a scoreless drought that lasted over seven and a half minutes. Without Tilmon to draw attention underneath the basket (none of Missouri’s other big men proved capable of scoring over and around Fall), UCF switched to a zone defense to choke off its opponent’s open looks behind the arc.

The Golden Knights weren’t knocking down many field goals of their own, but managed to overtake the Tigers and build a lead by creating trips to the free throw line. Twelve minutes into the game, more than half of UCF’s points (the team held a 20-17 lead) had come at the stripe: the Golden Knights went 12-for-13 to start the game. Missouri began capitalizing on UCF’s aggressive, driving mindset by drawing charges toward the end of the half and beyond, a tactic it continued with success throughout the game.

The Golden Knights took a 27-21 lead into the break, but Tilmon was re-inserted on the floor to start the second half and contributed immediately, making a hook shot over Fall on the Tigers’ first possession of the period. When the center was left one-on-one, it usually resulted in a quality look. When UCF sent double teams at him, as many teams have done this season, he was more collected than usual, often taking a step back and finding open shooters on the perimeter.

“You’ve got a guy who’s a low post-presence and demands a double team,” Martin said. “Think about it, he’s scoring over Tacko. That’s not easy. But he looks forward to that. It’s not like he’s running away from that challenge.”

Additionally, the Golden Knights shot themselves in the foot with careless turnovers, committing four in the first four minutes of the first half. Missouri won the turnover battle 15-10, a departure from the sloppiness the team has displayed in that department this season.

Missouri took only 6:25 to double its first-half point total, staking the team to a sudden 41-34 lead. UCF responded with an 11-0 run of its own which finally ended on a Xavier Pinson 3-pointer with less than 10 minutes to go.

The two teams went back and forth the rest of the way, eventually reaching a 52-52 tie in the final minutes of regulation before the Golden Knights’ Terrell Allen somehow bricked in a 3-pointer off the heel of the rim with 1:12 remaining in regulation. Pickett drove toward the basket on the ensuing possession but lost control of the ball. It slipped out of bounds, but Geist cleanly stole the inbounds pass and laid it in to cut the deficit to 55-54. Strong help defense forced a UCF turnover with 19 seconds remaining, but Pickett failed to find a receiver for a pass from the sideline, resulting in a five-second violation.

Dawkins hit two free throws to extend his team’s lead to 57-54 with 12 seconds to play. Geist was the point man on Missouri’s final play of the game. He originally looked in Smith’s direction for the game’s final shot, but the guard got lost in traffic. So Geist saw the clock winding down, dribbled forward, stopped on a dime, pump-faked his way underneath one defender, before leaping up sideways, twisting in the air, fading away and releasing the ball just inches over the second defender’s hand a half-second before the buzzer sounded. He drained the shot, sending the game to overtime. The Golden Knights had a foul to give but elected not to use it.

“We talked about fouling if the opportunity presented itself,” Johnny Dawkins said. “Young man on the ball didn’t think the opportunity was really there, so he just stayed locked in on him. Give (Geist) credit. He hit a tough, tough 3.”

Both offenses came out firing to start the extra period. Dawkins and Tilmon traded free throws before Geist and Taylor swapped off-balance 3-pointers, all in the first 1:28. Tilmon went back to work on Fall two minutes later, delivering a silky stop-and-spin layup directly underneath his own hoop that gave the Tigers a 64-62 lead that proved to be the game’s final score. Pickett missed the front end of a one-and-one that would’ve iced the game completely with seven seconds to play, but deflected the rebound enough that UCF could get nothing more than a contested 35-foot heave as time expired. It bounced off the backboard, hit the inside of the rim and careened safely to the floor.

Ideally, Missouri would’ve won both home games against AAC opponents, but the Tigers rebounded from their loss to Temple and won a game they needed to have despite playing the underdog role. Next, they’ll get what should be a short reprieve with home contests against mid-majors Texas-Arlington and Oral Roberts. Missouri returns to action at 7 p.m. on Tuesday against the Mavericks.