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Strong second half launches Missouri past Wofford

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Led by Mark Smith’s 19 points and a historical defensive effort, Missouri shut the Terriers down in the second half in a 75-56 victory.

Courtesy of MizzouHoops on Twitter

Those, right there, are the type of games that power five schools can easily find themselves on the wrong side of in the early-season grind of November and December.

Wofford was experienced. They could get hot from three, and they were well-coached. The Terriers went blow for blow with the Tigers during the first half, and even came out of the locker room to go on a 10-2 run to open the second frame. Nerves were palpable.

But when the Tigers got going, boy oh boy did they light up the gym. Behind stellar defense and a 13-0 run midway through the second half, Missouri ran away from Wofford, 75-56. The story of the night, however, was defense. Missouri went the last 14:35 of the game without allowing a Wofford field goal, outscoring the Terriers 30-13 in that timespan.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, Monday’s win marked the fourth game in a row the Tigers had held an opponent to under 63 points. “I think the biggest key is simply taking pride in what it means to be an elite defensive team, because that’s our goal,” Cuonzo Martin said after the game.

According to Mizzou Athletics, the streak of four games holding an opponent under 63 was the first time a Missouri team had done so since the 1951-52 season. “That’s impressive,” Martin said. “I always tell our guys that I always need to do a better job of acknowledging when they’re doing great things. We’re always consumed in the moment and trying to be special, but you have to acknowledge that they’re really taking pride in defending.”

After dropping a 63-58 nailbiter last week to Xavier, this was a game the Tigers simply could not afford to lose. Missouri came out hot from behind the arc, nailing six of its first 11 three pointers.

Wofford proved formidable, and the guard combo of Nathan Hoover and Storm Murphy kept the Terriers in the game with plenty of craftiness. Hoover had nine first half points, and Murphy pitched in eight.

Despite the hot hands from behind the arc for Missouri, there was an initial struggle to generate movement toward the basket. Wofford threw double-teams at Jeremiah Tilmon and forced seven Tiger turnovers. To his credit, Tilmon avoided foul trouble all game.

It was Tilmon’s second half that helped Missouri begin to pull away. Through crafty ball movement from Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson, not to mention fantastic passing out of the post, Missouri began to scheme around the double teams. Tilmon said that passing out of the post is something Martin emphasizes constantly in practice.

“Always,” Tilmon said. “Coach Martin will say I got four fouls, and we blitz the post. Everytime I get the ball, I’m getting double-teamed. I’m used to it now.”

Back-to-back dunks from Tilmon with just over 16 minutes left put Missouri back into the lead for good, right after Wofford completed a 10-2 run out of the locker room to go ahead.

Despite cooling off from three point range significantly in the second half, Missouri’s ball movement on offense improved dramatically. After scoring just six in the first half, Mark Smith heated up, nailing a couple three’s and demonstrating a willingness to take Wofford players off the dribble. Smith finished with 19 points, while Tilmon finished with 16 in front of a crowd of 8,144.

Martin said after the game that he believed this was the first time this year that his team has settled in offensively, a statement echoed by the players after the game. “We’re seeing how good of a team we can be,” Mark Smith said. “We’ve just got to keep trusting Coach Martin, listening and learning every day.”

Missouri will be back on the court in just two days, with a Wednesday matchup scheduled against Morehead State at Mizzou Arena.